I have been known to confess my aversion to group work. In undergrad, I intentionally registered for more credits than I needed so that I could drop the two worst courses as determined by 1) attendance policy and 2) group project.
Throughout my career, I’ve maintained three tenants about group work:
Know your AORs
Areas of Responsibility, or AORs, should be the first thing defined in any group or team work experience. When people know what’s expected of them, then they can determine whether or not they can expect it of themselves.
Help your team identify who does what. Make that the very first thing you do. Keep a clear list and verify the list with everyone.
Work the Milestones
All projects have deadlines or a date for expected completion. The deadline could be totally arbitrary. In undergrad, it usually coincided with some kind of break so the professor had time to grade all the assignments. In implementation projects, the deadline is “Go Live” or the day the end users expect to be using the new application.
Working backward from a deadline enables planners to identify the volume of work. My favorite running app Run Trainer does this. It asks for the date and distance of the race you plan to run then it builds the workouts back to where you are today so that you can prepare.
Working the milestones means checking in at turning points during a project. Don’t wait for Go Live to recognize problems. At various points, ask where the work is and whether it can still be completed on time. If you’re three weeks out from a 13-mile race and you’ve only ever run 8 miles, you’re not likely to be ready.
You cannot manage time. Time is the same for everyone. 60 minutes. 24 hours. 7 days. 12 months. Time is a standard we all experience.
Managing yourself means making the right choices about how you spend that time.
I like to front-load: get as much done early in the week, early in the day, early in the month as possible. That way I have cushion if shit hits the fan and delays occur. Waiting until Thursday to work on a project due Friday will backfire 99% of the time. Thursday will get hijacked by some unforeseen circumstance like a sick kid, a broken printer, or a car that refuses to start.
You cannot plan for chaos. But you can manage yourself through it.
There is a generational argument to be made here, I think. With two decades-worth of collaborative, experiential learning, the Millennials and current college students are much more likely to feel comfortable with team projects and group work. GenXers tend toward my skepticism. We know from experience that if others can do what I can do then I can be replaced. So, we are more furtive in offering assistance and more protective of our domains.
I’m trying to let that go. I’m trying to Be Like the Chefs and share what I know and do with as many people as possible knowing they can’t do it as well as me and so eventually they’ll hire me to do it with them or for them.
I’m also becoming more assertive, emboldened by the knowledge that if I don’t lead, no one else will. Or, worse, someone else will try to lead and fuck it all up. With confidence in my experience and abilities, I take the initiative and invite others to participate. I’m at a turning point in my career and it’s scary as hell but I believe the other side will be rewarding. Maybe some teammates will surprise me with their proficiency and intellect. Maybe I’ll learn new ideas from their various perspectives. Maybe I’ll come out on the other side even better than I went it.
What’s with the ‘maybe’? Of course that will happen. Of course I’ll grow and learn and change and a willingness to change has been my governing principle for ever.
So let’s do this. Let’s group work the shit out of this. Whatever it is. Let’s collaborate and participate and congratulate and all the other –ates. I’m in. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t suck.