Team Building

For many years I’ve been fortunate to work in academia as part of a team, or even lead a team of professionals towards various goals. The leading part is complex, always! Everyone has their own interests, and the larger the team the more varied the ways in which you can either insult/discourage/contradict any one of your team members’ beliefs, way of life or purpose. Enter into that equation any cultural differences which need to be taken into account.

Often, Tech Directors come into a small school community as a foreign species. We are technologically savvy, experienced in the workings of day-to-day classroom instruction, and are able to navigate quite comfortably within the hierarchy of the political makeup. For the most part, however, we are transient. It takes a lot of effort to get a team to become a team with you included in it. Most often, Tech Directors will end up serving the role of an outside “manager” to an already established team. Team members know that in the end they are the ones left to deal with the long-term effect of the Tech Director’s decisions. This can make it very difficult to gel a team together.

This is what I’ve done in the past to get teams to collaborate and to work together more closely. More importantly, teams made up of smaller teams within such as a larger tech office which takes care of training teachers, providing tech support, coding applications and perhaps offering other types of services to the community.

I’ve been very fortunate in that for the past 13 years or so I have been asked to come into a place to build the infrastructure thus giving me latitude of bringing a team together to accomplish it within a given period of time. The number one thing I look for when bringing in people to form a team is interest. Of course, each person should be people-friendly, able to interact and work within a group, and responsible/professional/showered, etc….but nothing works better to bring a team of learners together than each of them being able to dig deeper into things they are actually interested in. So, each member of the team is interested in expanding their understanding in something they hold a common interest in. Yes, they should all be tech savvy/friendly, but they should also be interested in either doing more things in moviemaking, playing a particular sport, going out to venture into hiking/running/biking, or something. Anything that is either connected to – or not – to their collective daily work that becomes the glue for the team to really bond when not seriously at work. They should all be interested in knowing more about something their colleagues are equally interested in. If I find myself running a team I have not brought myself together, finding out what their common interests are is my one priority coming in.

Team member interests becomes that social glue which yields results in the workplace during the normal operation of the team. Whenever any of them are in a bind, others will come to help. When weekend hours, or evening support is needed you’ll notice you will have less resistance. This helps in so many ways. When negotiating contracts with providers, learning the political landscape of your school, knowing which members of the community are key in getting your mission accomplished, and many other things. Your team mates know more than you as they are on the ground day-in and day-out and thus can give you a heads-up whenever action is needed to fix a situation or to prevent disaster. Always look to them for advice before making major changes they will need to enact.

Going bowling, hiking, to amusement parks, skydiving together, traveling, movies, pool, a bar, trying out different restaurants to get a better taste of a different culture, r/c cars, robotics, slot racing or videomaking are some of the things I’ve had teams come together for periodically in the past. These activities work. Moreover they help the incoming – often foreign – director build camaraderie amongst team members.