How to encourage collaboration and team work


How to encourage collaboration and team work

Everybody always talks about making it to the top, being the boss, becoming a manager, running shit, starting a business, getting a promotion and rising up.  But what about team work? What about team building, working and collaborating with others and being successful that way?  Not much talk, very little actually.  Shame, because that is what makes us great, inevitably anyway.

Adapting the wrong mentality

In school we are taught to stand out, be individuals and show our stuff.  School encourages this, and rewards the ones that get the best grades on their own, without any help, and prove they got the smarts and ability to make it to the top.  It’s all wrong if you ask me.  Instead of suppressing the desire to work with others we need to be encouraging this to the max.  In actuality it is team work and collaboration with others that help us reach the goals we strive for.  Unfortunately the system doesn’t teach us how to do this and so when it’s time to go out into the real world we stagger, struggle and worry about others stealing our ideas.  We don’t share, and we certainly fail at making real progress, progress that matters anyways, when we go off on our own.  When we fail, it’s always about what others did to us, but when we win it’s usually ‘me’, ’me’, ‘me’!

We can do better.  As educators, we should be motivating our students from the youngest age possible to work with their classmates and collaborate on projects.  When, we see people celebrate victory, win a gold medal, succeed in business, win an Oscar, there are actually many in the background that we don’t see that have helped people realize their dream of reaching the pinnacle.  It’s a team effort and without others to help us, advise us and push us forward, there is a good chance we would never get there.

Victory involves many, not just one

Leaders inspire collaboration and team work.  We talk about leaders a lot, but fail to understand what makes them great.  Great leaders know, that it’s the people they work with and depend on that bring the results we seek.  They know, that through sharing, advice, brainstorming and bouncing ideas off others is how we break through and accomplish the most.  As educators, teachers, mentors, coaches, leaders and managers we can encourage, inspire and facilitate that collaboration. How can we do it as teachers? How important is it to prioritize such an ability and foster the team building and work with others that delivers the final project and results that people are excited to see?

The starting point is doing team building activities, obviously.  There are many kinds.  You can give your employees or students a task that requires them to work together to solve.  Getting from one side of the room to the other with a group member blindfolded.  Setting up obstacles that require different skills to get through like logic problems, physical exertion, math problems, creativity or art can be a great way of showing how different people in your group have unique strengths that can help a group succeed and move on to the next task in the activity.  One popular team building activity I came across is from a TED talk on team building using spaghetti, string, marshmallows and tape.  I personally haven’t had the chance to use this yet but will do so next year when I teach my leadership class again.

I think that is the biggest aspect that needs improvement for the leadership class.  I noticed, that regardless of smarts, race or nationality, students struggled with this, week in and week out.  When it came time to do a project they struggled to work together and collaborate.  It’s the biggest criticism I have of the leadership class.  I took for granted that students would be capable of this, focused on aspects of leadership I thought were indispensable but left out team building.  I know for next year that this will be done on day 1.  That’s why I am writing about it now.

Nurturing what comes naturally

Unfortunately, regardless of race or nationality, society and more specifically school doesn’t encourage this.  We encourage you to be selfish, look out for number one and show everyone else how awesome you are.  We give individual awards in team sports, we give individual awards in school in practically every subject.  Companies give individual awards to their ‘outstanding’ employee each year. When we have an original idea, we keep it secret.  Most of us are afraid that someone will steal it.  I’ve noticed that we are not born this way.  When I take my daughter to the playground and she walks over to the sandbox I see how kids naturally share the pail, the shovel and everything else in there with each other.  They help each other when they are making their castles and what not.  My daughter picks up things, walks over to me or my wife, and hands it to us.  She smiles when she does this.  Why do we discourage kids as they grow to stop this?

As teachers, we have a choice.  Now, with the digital tools at our disposal, we can motivate and push ours students and our children to work together more than ever.  Google offers multiple apps that encourage collaboration and we need to start utilizing technology in the right way for things like this.  Employees in a company, big or small, can utilize these same tools. You don’t need technology of course, as I already mentioned above, but it’s their as another option to you.  In the TED talk the speaker goes through the statistics he collected on which groups made the tallest spaghetti tower.  Was it the business people? The kids? The college grads?  Well, I’ll let you guess…..

I’m curious what your experiences are with team building strategies. Please comment on other approaches to team building you are familiar with because I’d love to hear them.

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Till next time readers, seek the change.

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collaboration, education, new approach, reflection, teacher development
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