Readers of themacinator, do not be alarmed! The following post while written by yours truly, will appear to be ghostwritten by someone with opposable thumbs who has taken over her keyboard and brain. It is true that starting in approximately the first week of my first year of undergrad I swore that I would never go back to school. It is also true that I am now back in school. All I can say is that if you are reading this because you're a fan of the blog, don't read further- I'll have something for you later. If you're reading this because you're interested in Teamwork, or at least an Assignment about Teamwork, now you know me, and the assignment starts here.
Everyone who has every applied for a job dreads the question about working in teams. Sometimes it's disguised in the "tell me about a stressful situation" question, and sometimes it's just out there: "do you like working better in teams or alone?" This is the moment when your brain runs 18 miles an hour (fast for a brain) trying to figure out how the position you're applying for fits into the company you're applying for fits into the interviewer's attitude, and come up with the right soundbite that isn't totally dishonest. Because the answer is really no, no one really likes working in teams.
What a giant relief to read in Ken Haycock's lecture that a) this is normal- everyone dreads team works and b) there are solutions! (Looking back at my notes, I don't see anywhere where Haycock explains how to answer these interview questions, unfortunately.) Haycock lays out four stages of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, and since the fourth is optional, an entire two thirds of the stages involve the perfectly normal fear/distrust/stress/dissatisfaction with teamwork. In the "forming" stage, when groups are assembled, there's excitement and anxiety and in the second, "storming," stage, teams get grumpy about pretty much everything involved. (Note: I'm using "team" and "group" interchangeably here, though it's not quite accurate according to Haycock's definitions.) Not until the "norming" stage does Haycock's model allow for workers to realize the team is all right, and that sounds about right to me: it takes a lot of time and work for the team to feel like it's functioning well enough to out-perform a highly competent individual. And many groups don't even get to "performing": the meta stage of "norming" where not only is the group function well, but it enjoys functioning and understanding what's working.
Once I got past the relief from reading Haycock and later Enid Irwin that I was not alone in my stress about groups, I fell back into skepticism and stress. Maybe I passed the interview and got the job, convincing the HR dude that I am an awesome team worker, but once I got there, I found out that the team was a hockey team and I have only been ice skating once. Or something like that. Haycock gives some very specific steps for successful teams as well as team leaders, and it does appear that if a group sticks to these steps the team will be productive and successful. My hesitancy comes with the the steps themselves. They're very procedural, and require that team members act with maturity and thoroughness from the outset. For example, in his model, teams select an effective leader, lay out ground rules, stick to ground rules, and have consequences for noncompliance. In theory, these all sound wonderful. Reading them gives me anxiety, even with fairly thorough instructions for getting there.
How easy is it to set ground rules? To stick to them?
I feel much more prepared for online classes when looking through the tips on that subject. Even though I swore off of advanced degrees, I'm a fairly competent student and good at time management. The key will be to use the tools from Haycock and Irwin, rather than to fear them.