When I was a teacher, I loved mixing students up and having them work together on projects. Students complained. Parents complained. I kept doing it. Here’s why.
I have been a student for most of my life and worked on many group projects. I understand why students don’t like working on teams, especially ones the teacher picks for them. It is hard to come to consensus, and harder still to share the work equally. Someone almost always ends up disappointed. Someone almost always dominates the group. Someone almost always ends up doing more than their share. Someone almost always fails the group. Grades suffer. Kids and parents get upset.
In my careers as an administrator and a teacher, I have worked on many, many teams as small as two and some as large as forty! Working on teams doesn't stop once you finish school and being paid to work together doesn’t make the task any easier. There are still leaders and followers, hard workers and indifferent members, successes and failures. I’ve been on teams that made me want to tear my hair out. I’ve been on teams that made awesome progress and were very productive. I’ve quit teams that were dysfunctional. I’ve been on teams that became like family.
As a result of these experiences, good and bad, I am a better person and team member. I have obtained a host of skills not related to anything I was studying or needed for my jobs, but that I use more frequently than algebra or French or metal working. These skills, by the way, are highly desirable in the workforce and make you a better friend and family member. I am a better person all around as a result of being a team member.
I have learned patience. I have learned how to network. I’ve learned to listen before I speak. I have learned to value the input of others. I have learned to share the workload. I have learned that I don’t know everything. I have learned how to motivate others. I have learned how to gently give feedback. I have learned to care about the success of the group more than my own. I have learned how to build and operate a budget. I have learned that I am a perfectionist and how to let that go. I have learned millions of facts that I wouldn’t have learned on my own. I have learned how to split a project into small, manageable tasks. I have learned how to agree to disagree. I have learned how to be wrong. I have learned how to build consensus. I have learned to accept help. I have learned how to present. I have learned how to say no. I have learned that my actions can have a positive or negative impact. I have learned that laughter is best shared. I have learned to see an object completely differently through someone else’s eyes. I have learned how to adapt. I have learned that I will always be learning.
Central to the goals of the FIRST Tech Challenge program is teamwork. Teams must work together to complete the task of building a robot, all the while maintaining their Team Engineering Notebook. They must present their robots for inspection and complete Team interviews with the judges. They must then compete in Matches, working with other Teams in Alliances. This is FTC in a nutshell, with the word ‘Team’ being used more often than ‘Robot.’ Yes, it’s a robotics competition, but one based on teamwork. Robots can only take you so far in life; teamwork will get you the rest of the way.
For ideas on how to ‘build’ a team, check out “Building Teams that Build Robots: A Guidebook for FTC Mentors and Coaches”.