“Teamwork Makes the Dream Work”: The Caveat

I’ll never forget the feeling of dread when the teacher would assign a group project. When I was younger and didn’t have much experience with them, I enthusiastically thought it’d be a great opportunity to work with people who weren’t my friends; but by the time I got to grad school and professors were still making us write group papers, I was horrified. There were always the inevitable challenges: finding a time when everyone could meet (think about the world before texting, emailing, and definitely before Doodle poll); sharing ideas and divvying up the tasks, and then following up with the group members who either didn’t show for the meeting or were essentially flaking out. Almost every group paper or presentation from 9th grade on, I ended up being the chump who’d have to pull together all the pieces and make up for the parts that didn’t get done. But if we’re being honest, part of me also slept better being that chump because I preferred to have control over the final project since I took my grades pretty seriously. When I finished my graduate program, I thought, “No more schooling means no more useless group projects!”

And then I entered the workforce.

Group Projects For Life

I quickly realized that all those years of forced “collaborative” projects were actually one of the best attempts at preparing us for our careers. I didn’t notice this as much during the part-time jobs I worked in high school and through my early twenties, maybe because of the nature of the work — ice cream cone maker at Dairy Queen (in between nibbles of cookie dough- judge me all you want), florist, and waitress. Or perhaps because I wasn’t paying attention to the team effort as much as I did when I started working in my field. Either way, working in clinical trials research at the Perelman School of Medicine provided me the opportunity to exercise those skills of politely and professionally interacting with different personalities.

After a couple years in the workforce, I was promoted to manager and supervised a team of 10 very different individuals. I took advantage of the resources Penn had to offer and completed a supervisory skills certification program, learned more about Myers-Briggs personality types, and was thrilled to receive acceptance into the “LeadingSuccess” program. The Office of Organizational Effectiveness offers this year long program that allows managers to develop leadership skills, increase their effectiveness, and prepare for more complex or senior positions in the future. We met monthly as a cohort of about 20 people, and every other month in smaller groups to discuss particular issues we might be facing in our workplace. It was also a unique opportunity because the cohort was made up of new managers like myself, but also physicians and surgeons who headed entire departments, grants managers, and Principal Investigators.

Valuing Different Communication Styles

Over the year we reviewed several different components of leadership, but one that has stuck out to me and is something I’ve carried to my current job at Health Union, is understanding that people have different communication styles and that understanding the different styles actually benefit the team as a whole. Some people are direct communicators as they’re fast paced and get to the bottom line, others are spirited and good storytellers who focus on the big picture. You also have systematic communicators who focus on facts and are efficient with their words, and then there are considerate communicators who listen well and place value on building trust. Since people have different communication styles and most people are not great at listening it’s important to do a recap after a conversation to make sure everything that was needed for the next steps. Place this knowledge in a group project setting and think of how much easier it would be to wrangle someone’s grand idea for the class presentation by making sure it’s decided who and when the idea will be executed.

Diversity Builds A Stronger Team

Why does this all matter? Maybe this is quite obvious to most people, but I learned that the more diverse a team, the stronger the group. In addition to communication styles, it was eye-opening to learn about my own StrengthsFinders — something Health Union has new hires complete (more on that to come!). An article in Harvard Business Review, “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter” shared “In a global analysis of 2,400 companies conducted by Credit Suisse, organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.” The article discusses that diverse teams take the time to process more facts and overall, are more innovative.

During the LeadingSuccess program, I was able to utilize the knowledge of different styles in my daily interactions, and found myself being more understanding when working with a colleague who always seemed so hesitant and uncomfortable with problem solving. I’ve also become more patient when working with someone who is spirited as I now value his/her ability to look at the big picture.

I wished in addition to being forced to work on all those group projects that someone reviewed the differences in how we communicate, think, and process information. I may have been able to work more effectively and more patiently rather than feeling grouchy after pulling all-nighters to write the whole paper. Who needs sleep when you’re young though?