At some point in our lives, we find ourselves working in a group to accomplish something. Group projects and collaborations are becoming more and more prevalent in academia and the professional sector. I played basketball growing up and joined the Marine Corps after high school. Many of the teamwork and collaborative skills I picked up during my formative years are super useful to me today in academia and the professional work setting. Here are some pointers:
Get to know your teammates. I can’t tell you how many times ‘personalities clashed’ in a collaborative work environment. The funny part is, everyone in the group generally wants the same thing: the successful completion of a task. Getting to know your colleagues means learning their personality traits, their strengths, and weaknesses. It’s here when you learn the most effective (or ineffective) way to communicate to them.
We had a new person join our D Center tutoring staff. This individual was generally quiet in a group setting. One on one this person opens up and shares new ideas and asks question. I am an outgoing and loquacious person. I know that because of my personality I have a tendency to talk over others. Listening was one of my weaknesses. By working on my weakness, I was helping my teammate with hers. In a group meeting, I made it a point to engage her directly three times. Whether it was a question for her, her input, or check in with her I made it a point to talk to her and actually listen to what she had to say. This, in turn, made her feel more included and part of a team. It can be difficult joining a team late in the game that is already close-knit.
This interaction not only benefitted the individual and me; it benefitted the team as a whole. This person brought new ideas and perspective, and a fresh set of eyes to the group dynamic. This ties into my next point:
Think beyond you, think about the team and the goal. What happens when the team doesn’t go with your plan or idea? What happens if they don’t take your advice or suggestion? Move on. The will of the team is not always the will of a particular individual. Understand this and moving on becomes a bit easier. As along as the team is headed toward the goal, does it matter if they chose a different way of doing the same thing? No? Then move on.
Group disagreements are natural. This is the fundamental nature of groups. How you work through a group disagreement is what makes or breaks a group. Read the group, listen to your colleagues. Don’t over-talk or disrespect anyone. Remember the goal as a whole, and remember that disagreements are supposed to happen. Negotiate and compromise.
Everyone one should have an assigned task or job with a clear deadline. How the tasks are assigned is just as important as assigning them. It’s probably not a good idea to bark orders at everyone in your environmental science class or your internship. First, as a group, identify all the tasks that need to be done. If you’re writing a paper as a group, the outline should suffice. Then ask everyone what they would like to do. Make sure the tasks are evenly distributed. When people pick their duties, that is a form of ownership and accountability. When you ask them ‘When do you think you can have that done by?’ that is another kind of accountability and ownership.
When do you leave the group? Sometimes groups formed to complete a specific goal, i.e. volunteers for an event or convention or school project. Once the goal is met and the project is over the group naturally disbands. What about organizational committees, work, and other group settings where goals change but the collaborative element doesn’t? A thriving group is one that is always adapting and growing. Each individual contributes something to the whole while simultaneously getting something in return; i.e. developed skill, compensation, network connections, joy, personal satisfaction, and growth, etc. When an individual is no longer contributing to the group, that person is sand-bagging or dead weight. When an individual is contributing the to the group but is not getting anything out of it, address it. After careful evaluation and reflection, perhaps the needs of the individual and the needs of the group has changed, in any case, it may be time to leave.
You shouldn’t have to compromise who you are to be a team player. If you’re an introvert, you don’t have to be suddenly outgoing to be a ‘well rounded’ team player. Someone with a bubbly friendly disposition shouldn’t have to shrink themselves in a group setting. The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. You are what the team needs.