What do Harvard students learn as a team?
13.10.17
What do Harvard students learn as a team?

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10 Required Student Skills at Harvard University

Skill number 8. Teamwork

Answer yourself honestly, do you like to work in a team? Why is the school team favorite method of teamwork on projects becoming an increasingly popular teaching tool in both the humanities and the natural sciences?

Those of you who have had negative experience working in a team have probably wondered more than once about the advisability of such work when it is faster and easier to do everything yourself.

The ability to work in a team is an important professional skill that should be in your luggage already when applying for a first job. The importance of teamwork skills and the ability to quickly and efficiently integrate into the culture of a new team is also due to such a global trend as the transition from work-function to project work. If earlier people could work in one function and surrounded by a little-changing team for decades, today your functions and team are determined by clear terms and objectives of the project. If the proposed projects relate to the international sphere, then the skill of working in a team should be perfected also in an intercultural context.

It turns out that many transfer skills, including communication skills, leadership skills and teamwork skills, should be developed in the context of higher education. That is why many universities that are interested in the successful placement of graduates at the most demanding employers integrate the development of these skills into the context of academic training. In addition, systematic teamwork will not only allow you to pump many other skills, but will also allow you to more thoroughly work out the material being studied and better understand your roles in the team.

At Harvard School of Education, for example, teamwork is an essential element in organizing training in almost all courses. Let's see what the strength and complexities of teamwork are at the same time:

5 skills that you will learn as a team

Determine which partner you are and how you can effectively choose team partners

Next time, I will more meaningfully choose team partners ... Fortunately, in many courses where the project is supposed to be carried out over the course of a semester, you have the opportunity to independently choose those with whom you would like to share joint work for the whole semester. At the beginning of the course, when no one really knows each other, professors offer several exercises to help students understand who is who: grouping students according to common interests, minute self-presentations with advertising of their background, as well as basic competencies and quick meetings when you can discuss common interests with potential partners, identify common ground, as well as what skills you can strengthen the team. Despite the effectiveness of these tools for establishing initial contact between students, they do not guarantee quality and satisfaction in the course of further work. The identification of their weaknesses as part of teamwork and the realization of the right choice of partners comes through experience, most often through disappointment and even defeat. It is the difficulties and problems in teamwork that will allow you to identify areas for immediate development, and perceive them as a vector for personal growth.

Teamwork Organization

A particular disappointment in teamwork is situations where time is used inefficiently, deadlines are not respected, or out of three equal participants, one (it’s you) takes everything on itself. These are all symptoms of poor organization of the team or the absence of any organization in principle. At one of my courses, for example, the element of work in the new team was present in almost every lesson. To carry out a team assignment, a clear description of the assignment, format and time to complete it was always provided. Covered by enthusiasm and freedom of creativity, the teams immediately rushed into lively discussions and, as a rule, in the last 5 minutes they tried to shove the answers to the questions. Reflecting on such work, the students themselves noted how inefficient time was used in this case. The teacher intentionally organized such tests to lead students to independent conclusions about the need to determine the format of the team that would bring the most effective results. Subsequently, each new session, where teamwork was present, began with a minute discussion of the step-by-step plan, the distribution of roles in the team and the time for each role to be performed. Teams also come to such a system, which, after half a semester of work, identify problems with an uneven distribution of tasks, systematic non-observance of deadlines, unsatisfactory quality of work for some participants, etc. And this is really a valuable experience, after which any team work in which you participate will begin with a clear operational planning.

Critical attitude to your ideas and value team ideas

I think that it’s not a secret for anyone that our ideas, especially if we have spent a certain amount of time on them, are treated with special trepidation and pride and expect that our ideas will be appreciated by the public or team. Criticism from partners and ideas of your partners, exactly the opposite or not taking into account yours, are perceived painfully. Therefore, one of the most important qualities of effective teamwork is the ability to exercise good judgment in criticism and consider it as defining areas for finalizing your ideas. You see, many of our ideas that have not passed external evaluations and preliminary tests are quite raw. Is it worth it so close to the heart to perceive their imperfection?

As I already said in the section on communication skills, our ideas are not always interpreted by others exactly as we see them, because they are distorted through the prism of personal experience and personal background. In addition, the context of your idea may not be familiar or understandable to your interlocutor, which often happens when working in intercultural teams. And finally, your storytelling logic is not always straightforward and understandable, so figure out how effectively you were able to convey your idea to the interlocutor. If you are sure that you conveyed it well, it may be worthwhile to work on arguments and evidence!

The ability to give constructive feedback

There is no room for criticism in teamwork, but there is room for constructive feedback. Unlike criticism, constructive feedback involves an attempt to objectively evaluate the work of a teammate — highlighting the pros and cons of the minuses with suggestions for improvement. The feedback skill is complicated in that it requires constant conscious monitoring of the construction of ideas by another person. This skill is also key in negotiating, as it trains a full focus on tracking the structure of the interlocutor’s argument, taking into account the key issue.

In addition, some students simply do not have the courage to express feedback so as not to offend. If you adhere to the principles of providing constructive feedback, most likely your partner will be only too happy to receive advice on how to improve your work. Students who are accustomed to receiving such feedback over time require a more rigorous analysis of their thoughts, because they really see the value of external evaluation to improve their arguments and bring ideas to perfection.

The ability to play different roles in a team and maintain a common interest

And finally, teamwork is a great training for the ability to play different roles in a team, since each new team and each new project involves new goals, deadlines, resources, and therefore the dynamics of a team. If you previously played the role of a team leader, it doesn’t mean at all that it will always be that way, so it’s important to learn how to adapt to different styles and goals and find a common language with different players. Working in teams during training is a great opportunity to learn how to analyze people and adapt their participation for the benefit of the project.

The quality of your participation in team work today will determine your relevance in future projects, because feedback about your team participation will be available not only to the current employer, but also will be reflected in the Internet space, and most importantly will leave a completely clear emotional impression of you as a team player in the minds of people who may decide to attract you to the next project.


Author: Evgenia Efremova, graduate student at Harvard University
and academic director of Global Ambassador

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The article uses an image from the site http://harvardleadershipmag.org

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