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Working in teams

 One of the biggest changes in my life this year is that I’m teaching half-time and pursuing a master’s degree in library and information science from San Jose State. So far, it’s been a privilege to have the new time and space.

My first course has introduced teamwork as a crucial component. One of the instructors, Enid Irwin, called teamwork the “monster” every student “dreads.” Am I, who has mostly enjoyed collaboration, in the minority?

Maybe I’m comfortable with collaboration because I’ve had a lot of experience working in teams. I was trained as a team-teacher, with another adult simultaneously in the classroom, which involved extensive hours of planning and lots of give-and-take in the moment. I team-taught for four years, and although I’m not sure I could do that anymore, it was some of my best work.

Though my team-teaching days are over, my school does a good job training us on how to construct clear group goals and assign individual accountability. We’re also strong on developing norms, sharing leadership, and monitoring process, which Dr. Ken Haycock emphasized in his talk.

But there’s a big distinction between the collaboration I’ve done (in person) and the teamwork I’m going to do (online). The question is whether I have the skills to collaborate in an online setting.

My first impression is probably. My time management is solid, and I’ve cleared enough of my schedule to devote the time necessary to keep up. I also don’t mind being on the computer. Doing work alone (with quiet!) is great for an introvert like me.

I also agree with Irwin and Haycock on a number of skills essential in effective teamwork. One of them is really defining the desired outcome. Another is making sure members understand and value their role on the team. But what I think it most important is the use of team time.

We’re all busy. Team projects take more time, it’s true. But nobody wants to waste time. We want to feel like we’ve made progress. Therefore, the forming phase of teams (in Dr. Haycock’s words) is the most important. Sometimes, it’s too nebulous: no one wants to take charge for fear of seeming domineering. There’s a lot of false flexibility — “sure, that sounds great” — that later turns into resentment and conflict. I want to know who the leader is, how we’re going to conduct a meeting, and what’s expected of us between meetings. If those questions are answered, I’m pretty comfortable.

Perhaps I’m too comfortable on teams. I tend to play a similar role each time: the one who gets stuff done, the one who checks process to make things more efficient, the one who smooths out budding conflict, the one who stays mostly quiet but then offers suggestions at crucial moments. In general, I don’t like being the leader.

At my school, where everyone knows me, that’s not a problem. But in a team of strangers, maybe my style is too reserved, potentially off-putting, certainly not direct.

One of my challenges this year, then, is to practice being a leader on a team, especially in the forming stage. When my colleagues want to move on too quickly, I will push myself to ask the key questions: What are we doing? How are we going to work together? What’s expected of us?

I also want to practice being more transparent in the storming phase. In general, I don’t worry about trust or my colleagues’ quality of work. But I also don’t like conflict. It’s much more my style to forget conflict rather than to go to the source. Nevertheless, I’ve found that teams with consistent check-ins on process do better than teams that have to create those conversations.

I look forward to being on teams in my new program and am hopeful to practice skills that I can bring back to my teaching, too. 

One comment

  1. Ariadna J-B.

    I believe your collaboration skills will be an asset in an online setting. It is nice to hear from all of you and how you plan to prevent conflict and procrastination before it happens. =)

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