By Ashley Sanders
Belmont Professor Dr. Nathan Webb began his talk on teamwork by addressing an unfortunate reality: group work, particularly in an academic setting, is pretty unpopular. He had the scholars take a quiz to gauge their feelings about group work. Not surprisingly, most feelings were negative. Because of the popularity of this opinion, it has been given a name: grouphate. These inherently negative feelings about group work are just one of the obstacles against group work. The others he listed include, social loafing, which means that people are lazier in social settings because they assume someone else will pick up the slack. Other issues surrounding group work are difference in personality and goals.
Even with all of this working against it, Forbes ranked the ability to work in a team as the number one skill you can bring to the workplace. So, Dr. Webb argued, there must be some real benefits to teamwork. One of which is synergy. “Synergy makes 1 +1 = 3” Dr. Webb said. Synergy is what occurs when people mesh together so well that they become more than just a sum of their parts. Another benefit is that working in a group allows you to compliment each other strengths and weaknesses. It also encourages accountability and provides opportunities for diverse perspectives.
Dr. Webb had the students free write for two minutes (one minute on their strengths and one minute on their weaknesses) to demonstrate that everyone brings something different to the table, and if a group is put together and managed well, working in a group can be both efficient and enjoyable.
Dr. Webb went on to discuss what we do in groups: communicate, lead, make decisions and solve problems, run meetings, and facilitate discussion. Then, he put this into practice. Dr. Webb split the students into two groups.
“We are going to the moon,” Dr. Webb said. He then explained the scenario: they were a NASA space crew that crashed 200 miles from their meeting point. They had 15 items but could only bring 8 with them for the journey. Their mission: to rank their eight items.
Dr. Webb gave the students time to discuss their options before bringing everyone back together to compare lists. The first three were the same: oxygen, water and food. After this, their lists varied. Dr. Webb told the students that these kind of activities help to recognize all the parts of the decision making process. He asked questions about involvement in the discussion, leadership, and how the students came to decisions.
Finally, he returned to his original question: does teamwork really make the dream work? And his answer: “it depends.” If teams are put together and managed well, then yes it does. But if they aren’t, then maybe not. However, Dr. Webb said, group work is unavoidable so you might as well learn how to do it well.