Teamwork is How It’s Done

By Stephanie Schwartz, iMedia Class of 2013

One of the many things the iMedia program prides itself on is that it’s more than technology. The program emphasizes soft skills like presentation and group work just as much as it does learning how to take photographs or shooting video.

Of course, most of us are veterans, in some way or another, of working in groups – the American educational system has made sure of that the past twenty years. But now it’s just a part of the process.

We work in pairs. We work in threes, fours, fives and sixes. Occasionally we get to pick a partner, but sometimes Flash randomly generates our group. Either way, we’re going to get to know how to work with at least one person in our cohort well.

Group work, of course, brings its own challenges and stresses. Especially when there are people in the group strong in one area, it’s tempting that that person takes on the entire task, with others having little or no input. That’s both good and bad – bad because we won’t grow if we don’t experience learning something new, good if there’s one person with the energy, motivation and skill to bring it all together – but scenarios like this are often inevitable.

Personal clashes are also something we all expect, even pinpointing who’s going to get mad at who over what. Whether it’s a group constantly talking over each other or an inability to reach a consensus, that’s really when Jean-Paul Sartre’s phrase “Hell is other people” comes to mind.

Making everyone feel included is important, too. Many of our group projects involve a lot of different, complex components, and these projects are designed to be impossible for one, or sometimes two people, to do well in the time frame given. Sometimes one personality is so dominant that others merely let him lead the way. Other times there’s a laggard – someone without much experience or motivation. How to make sure that everyone is pulling his or her own weight?

Iris Maslow, the project manager for the Portugal fly-in this year, gave one of her tips for working with her group. “It can be hard to work together when we are large in numbers and very opinionated. For fly-ins, I try to delegate and empower everyone to be in responsible for at least one thing. At the end of our weekly meetings (which we do at the same time for consistency), we always walk away with a task that every person is responsible for.”

Everyone should feel included – not only will this alleviate resentful feelings, but boost morale and lead to a higher functioning group, and hopefully a better project.

Juanita Wrenn’s strategy is to have “each person focus on their personal strength. That puts each member in their creative comfort zone.” If two or more people are working on similar things, she tries to find a similar aesthetic so that a consensus can be reached.

It can be difficult, certainly, sometimes to speak up. Ruth Eckles, who describes herself as “a big introvert,” found all the group assignments a challenge at first. For someone used to creating on their own, being forced to collaborate can sometimes seem like an exercise in frustration and wasting time. However, she said, “I’ve discovered that introverts can work just fine with other people, they just need to learn how to do it in a way that works for them. For me that means I like to conceptualize by myself. The thinking part I find I do best alone. Then, when I have several well thought out ideas to present to the group, I feel like I can be a better contributor to the collaborative process. I’ve also found that storyboarding ideas really helps me to be more clear in a group situation.”

Obviously, each person brings their own personality to a group. The best way to deal with others? Know yourself and adapt. After all, as our professors remind us, teamwork is how it’s done.

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