Careers

We can work better

It’s important not discard the bare minimum civility in interactions even if emotions and anxiety are on a high.

It’s important not discard the bare minimum civility in interactions even if emotions and anxiety are on a high.  

Imbibing the right attitude and the skills required to work in teams is an important part of education. In college curriculum, besides knowledge testing through examinations, group projects and presentations form a core part of the evaluation process. These may either have two individuals working together or groups of four to five or more members. Such work demands sharing mental space and communicating at multiple levels.

The initial enthusiasm` to work together begins to fade as one gains some experience of working in groups. It isn't uncommon to find students expressing their disillusionment with group projects. But, while working alone may allow the autonomy to shape one’s work according to one’s will, it does not expose one to multiple perspectives which are necessary for growth.

K. Seshadrinathan, adjunct faculty member, Department of Management Studies, University of Madras, points out the significance of group work in the development of a student’s personality. “In a group, a few members may be highly involved, a few others may be less involved and play supporting roles, yet others may be just observers. An important purpose of assigning group projects is to help and motivate shy individuals overcome their inhibitions and interact with and learn from each other,” he says. But several times, as many students would testify, things take a sour turn.

Strike a balance

Differing motivations, commitment levels and temperaments of individual members give rise to different problems. The group may have lethargic members who are perceived as taking a free ride on others’ efforts. Then there may be those who try to do the entire work by themselves and consider the presence of others in the team to be a mere formality. Neither of these two extremes is right for the smooth functioning of the team. “What we have observed over a period of time is that people build several barriers within themselves and in relation to others. As a result, they tend to become either too aggressive, thus, closing themselves to other’s ideas, or too submissive and accept everything that is told to them, which stunts innovation. Unless and until our attitude strikes a balance, we cannot be open to ideas and talk, nor can there be productivity,” says Dilip Krishna, Director, Born to Win Learning Services, Chennai.

Deal with clashes

When a team has more than one high achiever, it is common to have friction, as each of these persons may want to run things in their own way. Team work requires people to communicate constantly which involves putting across one’s ideas with conviction, understanding the other person’s views and reaching a common ground. Often, students tend to fight shy of making the effort to clear up thoughts and iron out differences. Lack of proper communication leads to pent-up feelings which could come out in the form of blame games when things go wrong and can lead to much bitterness.

While it is important to be assertive, the tone adopted while talking to team members matters. It’s important not discard the bare minimum civility in interactions even if emotions and anxiety are on a high.

"We need to refrain from holding value judgement and be objective when dealing with others. Stay focused on learning and keep sight of the bigger picture rather than short-term goals. Respect people for their choices and don’t allow subjectivity to creep into your thought process,” suggests Mr. Krishna, as a measure to deal with differences.

Build team spirit

Dividing the task, encouraging all members to chip in with ideas, contribute according to their talents and then minimising interference in each other’s territory can help manage team work better.

However, doors should be kept open for suggestions and exchange of ideas. Also, it’s essential to subordinate personal interests to the interests of the team. The fear of someone ‘stealing credit’ for one’s work also makes one act and speak in ways that might suggest detachment from the rest of the team. This needs to be overcome.

Saying ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ while presenting, even though individuals may have worked on different parts, presents a united front and speaks well of the team effort. “Throughout our student years, we are conditioned to think in a self-centred manner where the focus is on improving one’s individual performance. The basic mind-set created is ‘I study well, I perform, I get the gold medal’. But when one steps into the corporate world, one is expected to engage in interactions and share views and thoughts. Undoing years of conditioning then becomes difficult. There is a need to create an eco-system for learning where knowledge sharing is encouraged,” says Mr. Krishna.

The issues faced while working in group projects in college are likely to be encountered when one steps into the ‘real world’ where individual ambitions, competing interests and insecurity may be found at an even more elevated level. Learning to handle these with composure and balance will stand one in good stead for the future.

The writer is a postgraduate student of communication, Women’s Christian College, Chennai.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 5:06:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/careers/we-can-work-better/article7092937.ece

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