Thinking about teamwork
When I was a kid, I hated “teamwork”. In my world, it usually meant “I get to do the work of 4 people while 3 others sit back and watch”. I hated it so much in fact, that I’ve avoided working in a team as much as I could for years. Yet now I’m working on a nice team and I love it! So thinking about that, I believe I’ve found what I hated so much and what I love now. Let me explain.
When you’re a kid in school, teachers create “team tasks” by getting normal homework and just piling a lot of it, until there’s more than is reasonable for a single kid. Every part of the task requires the same set of skills and knowledge, and thus every kid in the class should be able to do any part of it. I guess that avoids lots of problems, but it also removes everything that can make teamwork a nice thing.
See, a team is not a collection of individuals with the same skills and experience. A team is heterogeneous. Even in school! There’s the guy who’s awesome at computers but has horrible social skills. There’s the girl who has incredible blue-sky ideas but has no idea how to execute them. There’s that weird kid in the corner who’s always drawing dragons and stuff. And there’s also the charming guy who could sell a fridge to an eskimo. Now you put them in a team, and make them… do a report about prokaryotic cells? Come on! That’s the perfect team to do awesome stuff!
The great part of teamwork is when nobody in the whole team could do the task on their own, even if given enough time. In my current job, the designer does graphics I could only dream of; the backend guy works magic I don’t understand; the systems guy controls dozens of systems scattered across the world, and the marketing guys do absolutely amazing campaigns and events. Could I ever replace any of those guys? Not in a million years.
So this is what needs to happen in schools too! If any kid in the team could do the team task all by himself, either the task is crap or that kid is a genius. Either way, none of the kids in that team will learn anything useful about real-world teamwork. Team tasks should make kids understand that they need each other’s input and skills, and that they’ll get nowhere without them. And if they do get the task done without working together, there’s something terribly wrong with the task.
And after so much “team”, I had to put this here :-P