teamwork


Upon hearing the term “group-work”, there is a certain feeling that almost all students get.” And it’s not a good one. Sighs are heard in the classroom. Stress begins to rise, and then, a mad dash begins – each person seeking to form or join a team with someone who’s a friend, or with whom they have already worked with in the past. The ultimate worst-case is when the professor declares that he or she will be choosing the teams, and who you will work with is out of your control.

As a senior Strategic Communications major at Temple University, I am very familiar with the dreaded group-work. Almost every class has at least one assignment per semester that must be done in a group, and some courses are constructed to be a single group assignment that takes up the entire semester. I am currently in a class like that. I had no control over who was chosen to be in my group. Right about now I am feeling apprehensive at best because I don’t know anything about the people in my group, or the kind of work they will produce. In the past I have always resigned myself to the fact that if I had a lazy group that didn’t care about the grade, then I would do the entire project alone.

I’ve just started my internship for The Gabriel Institute and am beginning to have a much better outlook about teaming.  Their TGI Teamability was actually created for the pupose of understanding and predicting how people will perform in teams. Now my mind has been broadened to realize that people have specialties. Not everyone is an organizer or a communicator. Not every person is good at doing research, or motivating the group to stay on track. Before, I always felt that because we were working for the same grade each person should contribute in the same way. But that’s not how it is, and that outlook can set you up for failure. The key to working together successfully is in finding out what each team member has a natural affinity for doing, and putting each person to the right task.

Unfortunately, Teamability, is new, so very few schools are using it to match people to teams and tasks. This is too bad, because it would make the life of a student so much easier. And let’s face it, students have enough to worry about without having to agonize over the possibility of a group failure. So I have devised a plan of action for every student who must join a team without the opportunity to choose (or even suggest) the other team members.

  • Get to know your team! Before jumping into a project with strangers you need to know more about them. Ask them questions about what they enjoy doing in school. If they have ever had an amazing teaming experience in the past, have them describe why it was so great.
  • Figure out what the end result of the project should be, and create a plan to make it happen. For example if you need research, writing and then a final presentation, ask the group which part they would feel most comfortable doing.
  • Make sure no one person feels overwhelmed. When an individual is overworked, they can feel bitter towards the rest of the team, which could jeopardize the final project and grade.  So encourage the group to agree on an atmosphere of honesty: if anyone feels they have too much on their plate, they promise to let the team know.
  • Finally, stay in communication. At least one team member should take the responsibility to send out a weekly email detailing what has been accomplished and what needs to be done. This will keep everyone on track and focused on the assignment.

Without the comprehensive TGI Teamability to tell you which team members are the best match for the team’s mission, your group experience in class may not always be ideal. These few steps I suggest are not perfect, but they will help. Most importantly, though, try to maintain a positive outlook. When a team truly acts as a cohesive unit the experience can be enjoyable and extremely rewarding.

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Have you ever been having a good day (or at least an okay day) and someone decides to complain to you about all their problems? They tell you about the horrible morning they are having, how their relationship is falling apart, or why they are too tired to be at work, and suddenly your day isn’t so great anymore.

That’s because negativity is contagious. When working in a team you have to be extremely careful to stay focused on the team’s needs and objectives. Bringing in unrelated information, gossip, or emotional baggage can be detrimental to the productivity of a group.

The point? If you can avoid negativity in your life and refrain from passing it on to others, you will enjoy a much more productive way of life with those around you.

So the big question is, how can you avoid negativity in your life? It is not entirely plausible that you could eliminate every bad thing in your life, but here are some scenarios and solutions that can help you deal with everyday sorts of problems.

1. As a college student I often find myself in dire need of sleep. When you are overtired, everything in front of you can seem daunting if not downright horrible. Consistent lack of sleep leads to downtrodden attitudes and lack of energy, not to mention (according to recent research) increased susceptibility to weight gain.

My solution: RELAX! Skip a night of going out. If all your friends are dying to go to a movie or go drinking on a Saturday night, skip it. Watch a movie by yourself in bed and go right to sleep. Allow yourself an extra hour to sleep in the next morning (this is best done on weekends). The relaxing before bed and the extra hour in the morning should help catch up on some of your much needed rest.  Starting the week refreshed makes the entire workweek more bearable.

2. Often-times negative attitudes arise from feelings of being unproductive.

Now here’s a vicious cycle—because negative attitudes also reduce the drive to produce! The solution to this one is simple: lists and goals.  Make sure you write them down so you can cross them off as you go. Crossing things off gives you a visual—and physical—reward for what you have actually accomplished. Once you start running errands and mailing the Christmas cards, your stress level can decrease and you can enjoy more time out of your week to relax and refresh. (Note that this can automatically reduce fatigue.)

3. Another cause of negativity is the dreaded realm of ‘body issues’ (…and yes,  you men can have them too).  People who are constantly working or are on the go often regret their choice of unhealthy food, or have some other “problem area” (whatever it may be) leaves them wishing they had time to tone up. Many people are convinced that they don’t have time to exercise.

If you look online for gyms in your area, you might notice that many of them are open till 10 or 11 at night. This is for YOUR convenience. The world knows that you work 9-5 and then need to get home to your family. But once dinner has been cleaned up and you’ve had some time to digest, go to the gym. I recently joined one and even though I’m always tired, and I get bored exercising, I go anyway.  I’ve come to realize that even though I HATE going, I LOVE how I feel when leaving. The endorphins kick in right away and give me an energy boost for the rest of the evening. (It also makes me feel less guilty about the two deserts I usually eat on a daily basis).

If you honestly don’t have time to go to a gym, do something simpler. Wear ankle weights when walking around the house, or cleaning, or going to the store. Instead of watching a half hour of TV, put on some music and have a private dance party for 20 minutes. When you lay down in bed, do ten crunches before letting your head hit the pillow. Little changes can eventually lead to big payoffs.

As for the unhealthy food choices while on the go, take a look at the menus you are ordering from. Even McDonalds’ has healthier choices these days. Again little changes, such as getting apple slices instead of french fries, can do you a lot of good.

(At the beginning of this summer I got off the metro and got a croissant at Au Bon Pain every morning, I was hungry an hour later. Then I switched to buying their little packets of cheese crackers and grapes. Same price, much healthier. I no longer get hungry before lunch, and it helps me stay focused and energized instead of hungry and grumpy. )

I am not naïve enough to say there will never be things in life that can bring you down. However, for the things you cannot control, decide if they are truly worth your time and thought. If they aren’t, let them go. This is much simpler than people make it seem.  The more you maintain your focus on positive things, the happier and more productive you, and those around you, will be.