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Behind the Scenes of Teamwork
March 2, 2013
About 35 students are literally on the edge of their seats waiting for the “go” signal. They’re in a race to see how fast they can break down their table and chairs and swap them for a duplicate set across the room. After a flurry of activity, the winning team is done in less than 30 seconds!
The students are modeling a NASCAR pit crew, using tables and chairs instead of cars and tires. It’s all part of a workshop called “High Performance Teams” put on by the Leadership Institute. The students are discovering firsthand the characteristics of highly successful teams, such as clarity of purpose, defined roles, communication, and the need to involve each team member.
Earlier the students competed in a duct-tape relay, where the teams stood on two long strips of tape (sticky side up) and had to move in unison (see photo). It’s not all fun and games, however. Leadership Institute Director David Wold uses the activities to bring key concepts to life and make leadership and teamwork interesting and relevant.
At a workshop earlier this semester, the students engaged in a tug-of-war that started as a one-to-one contest, then two-on-two, then three-on-three, up to a team of eight. The exercise illustrated research showing that people tend to exert less effort in a team than on their own and often let up when others are available to share the load. As Wold says, “Talking about concepts like ‘social loafing’ and the ‘collective effort model’ is a lot less interesting than experiencing them in an activity. Exercises make ideas more engaging and memorable.”
Workshops this semester have centered on the theme of teamwork, which makes them highly relevant to student leaders. Participants include house presidents, student senators, team captains, resident assistants, and others who work in teams. Sophomore Marshall McCurties comments on the workshops’ value: “I’ve picked up really useful ways to assess teams and learned practical steps I can use to address issues. I look forward to applying them on the rugby pitch!”
By contrast, Laura Perry, who will be graduating soon, has found the workshops a useful lens for reviewing her years at Principia and the many leadership roles she held during that time. “Working with the Leadership Institute has helped me step back to identify what I’ve learned and tie it together,” she says.