Little Projects And Teamwork

I still go to college. Partly because I am honorary three times college dropout. Partly because there’s always something new to learn and I am willing to go for it. And partly because it allows for interaction with a lot of different characters, like inexperienced people full of ideas and experienced people who can cool off any hot thoughts – all in the same room.

These days my college requires a lot of presentations – even for something like basic finance class. So our class was broken down into teams and each team was tasked with a boring project to analyze different cases of time-value of money. Our group took a hit early and was one person short, comparing to other teams. That, however, turned into an advantage, because synchronizing schedules of 4 people is a lot easier than it is for five. I can vouch for it, since I was a de-facto team leader, although I had to appoint someone else to be an official team leader

Another team, that was presenting right after us, had a chance to prepare for about a week and a half longer. They didn’t have as much constraints on their time as we did (all members of our team have a full time job in addition to school) nor they had family arrangements some of us have been tied in (babysitters, namely). In other words, they had all the chances to beat us on every single front. They didn’t and the sole reason for it was lack of leadership.

On my part, I did everything I could to make teammates involved into the project. We did a brainstorming session on our first meeting where we laid out the skeleton of the presentation. We put a personality into the project’s presentation that immediately resulted in every member of the team personally involved. I created an outline by drawing sample slides on whiteboard once we agreed on the idea. I created slides for the presentation leaving out empty ones to be filled in by each teammate so that everyone immediately realized their part of the presentation and who goes after who. Everyone worked independently on their part, which allowed some basic task crushing, so when we met next time – we already had 90% of work done, just needing some polish over. Once we started splitting the work, turned out two people have serious issues with stage fright, so I let them speak on the middle slides, while I open up the presentation. By setting up certain pace of the presentation from the start I was able to keep the tempo going for all four of us.

I had a chance to see one of their meetings and they have confirmed they’ve been pretty consistent about them – the whole team was working on a current step, so the rest was put away until current one is complete. The approached stemmed from inability of any team member to act as a legit team leader, delegating tasks to other members and controlling the deliverables. There’s an upside to this approach, of course: all team members are very familiar with every single part of the project. However, this is being offset by team members focusing on the latest problem and forgetting about previous steps; no one is taking responsibility for the parts of the projects or the project as a whole. But what was the most terrible mistake of all is that every presenter on their team got two slides each – dispersed throughout the presentation. One person started on a first slide and later on would come in to comment on slide 12. Second person actually got to talk about slides 2 and 10, next – 3 and 14, and so on. By the middle of the presentation it was impossible to keep track of the subject, who said what and what is going on. Not because they didn’t know the material – they knew it alright, but because there was no leadership in place to lead them through it.

As I have said in the opening of this post – I like going to college because it allows the interaction with a lot of different people. Examples like these clearly show where most of people’s uncertainty comes from. It comes from being afraid of consequences of being responsible, taking charge or making a decision. This is also what makes or breaks entrepreneurs: not the decisions themselves, but the ability itself to choose – with or without having a complete picture and full understanding of how things work.