In my undergrad days of yore I majored in Psychology with a minor in Special Education. After graduation the only positions I could find with a BA in Psychology were either “do you want fries with that?” or childcare. I chose childcare and continued with some classes in early childhood education. Education classes LOVE group work. Even the classrooms furniture is rearranged every class so that you are in one big group. I can honestly say I didn’t have a single education class that didn’t have at least one big group assignment and several group work tasks throughout. I absolutely hated it, and there was no avoiding it. Education classes are built on team projects.
Most students don’t enjoy group work, at least that’s been my experience. Why don’t we like group work? I’ve found that a majority of people don’t enjoy work because it is thrust upon them and because they have had a bad experience in the past working in groups. Another reason I think people don’t enjoy group work is that they haven’t been taught how to be in an effective group. After working in a few groups you tend to build expectations that may or may not be true about future groups and you bring that baggage to every future group.
How do we learn to build effective groups and not fear or view group work with abject hatred (as I once did)? First, you need to claim your baggage regarding groups. Determine what aspects of group work you dislike and why. I’ve always been a go-it-alone type. I’m very type-A about school and consequently grades. I didn’t party my way through undergrad, I graduated Summa. Those achievements meant a lot to me. In my mind, group work was not conducive to my style of getting it done, getting it done early, and getting it done well. This is personal baggage I have pertaining to group work. It also contains an element very central to building an effective team: self awareness. As part of my SLIS courses I watched a video about team work led by Ken Haycock. One of the skills he mentioned was to know your strengths and weaknesses that you bring into the group, i.e. self awareness.
I say you need to “claim your baggage” about groups because I find it catchy, but also because it’s true. You claim your baggage at the end of a journey. Claiming your group baggage means coming to terms with all the group experiences you’ve had in the past (good and bad) as well as any personal baggage (skills or disruptive behaviors) that you bring to group work and end that journey. Look at each future group with knowledge of the past, but an empty suitcase to fill.
So what will fill our empty suitcase? Skills to succeed in a team, and skills for you personally to succeed. Until SLIS, I honestly didn’t know how to work in an effective group because no one had ever told us what an effective group looked like or how to build one. All my knowledge filled my suitcases with bad past experiences of working in a team or, at best, the “divide the project up, work on it individually and regroup right before it’s due” experience. This, as Enid Irwin says in “The Monster Inside Library School: Student Teams” is not teamwork. I see that now, after learning what an effective team really looks like.
I’ve taken online classes in the past and I’ve found that many of my Type-A skills actually aid me in online classes. Skills such as time management, being highly organized, and having a keen attention to detail can be quite beneficial in the online class environment. Taken to the extreme (as can happen with Type-As) these can be poor group work skills, as one person’s need for highly scheduled time management may not support the rest of the group dynamic. Openness and adaptability to new ideas and especially new technology will also help with both online student and online group success.
Irwin also stresses that respect for others and a positive attitude about working in a group are essential for group success.
So what’s the takeaway from the Student Teams unit? Claim your baggage-be aware of your strengths and weaknesses that you bring to the group, and also your preconceptions about working in a group. Start each group with an empty suitcase and pack appropriately for that group journey. What skills worked in the past that you want to take along into this group? Which ones do you need to leave behind? The skills I find to most beneficial are my time management, attention to detail, organizational skills, respect for others, and willingness to try new technology. The skills I’ve learned are important from my experiences (and from Haycock and Irwin’s presentations) are flexibility (something I can struggle with from my history of working solo for so long,) knowledge of what true collaboration is, and how a team really is formed. Breaking up a project to work individually and regrouping in shared space is not teamwork. True teamwork, in addition to having a shared goal, requires self awareness, team awareness and team goals, ground rules and clear communication. Pack your case with the right tools for the adventure of a lifetime!