Teamwork

Thank you once again for visiting my blog! It’s a little sparsely updated, but I hope to change that in the near future. Soon I will post weekly with well-written pieces. Now, without further ado, the subject for this post: teamwork.

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The Set-Up

Over the past eight weeks the HKU had given me and my classmates a very interesting project. It was called “Van Ventster Naar Poort”, which means “From Window To Gate”. The idea was that we worked in team to create a prototype for an interactive experience for the Openluchtmuseum in Arhem, The Netherlands. The Openluchtmuseum (outdoorsmuseum) is more of a historic park where people can see the history of The Netherlands. There are little houses from certain time periods, and during the better seasons, the whole park is alive with historical reenactors who tell the visitors about the time they live in. We were asked to create something that fit in with their style and to make something that was historically correct.

Our school, the HKU at Hilversum taught us about working in teams and getting organized. I’m a Game Art student, but this isn’t the first college education I enrolled in. I’ve done a year of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Twente. It was a very different type of school, way harder. I enrolled there because I had always been good at math, physics, biology and chemistry, but I hadn’t thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I quit the course after a year, after I passed way too few grades. Even though it seems like a sad thing to happen, I don’t think I ever could’ve gotten a better wake up call. I did learn there. I learnt how to work with a team. Having meetings with the group, planning the project, leading a project, discussing about decisions and working on assigned tasks. I took the motivation I didn’t have working on BME to my new school.

The Grind

So during the past 8 weeks I was the project leader. It is way harder than I thought. As a project leader you keep track of what everybody is working on, you plan the meetings and lead the discussion. The biggest task is the responsibility. I was responsible for the communication, for making sure people had their tasks finished. Early on, when the project began, I immediately took charge and started assigning tasks to people and asking questions to get an idea of my team’s skills. I really felt in control and I liked that. I got my team focused on the task at hand. I used everything I had to make clear what our goal was and what we had to do to achieve this goal. The other roles assigned in our group were artist, game designer and developer. I made sure everyone knew what was expected of them by asking. Just asking the rest of the group what they expected from me gave me insight on what I had to do, but also what my team was like. We did this for every role so we understood what our responsibilities were. I think it’s important to know what is expected of you, even when you have a defined role. People have expectations that they don’t always express, which could end with trouble.

Keeping track of decisions and what work is done was also important. I made sure I updated our planning regularly and that I made clear what was supposed to be done every time. We used Facebook to upload documents and to make the planning. I’m not sure if it’s the most optimal way to go, but as my classmates visit Facebook daily anyway, I thought it would be an easy decision. I also tried to make sure that every meeting we had some points on our agenda that were made public a day before the meeting itself. That way people could prepare and not try to force a subject during a meeting when it’s later on the list.

Too bad things didn’t really work out. It seems that against all good intentions not everything was clear enough to my team and there were mistakes being made. After I didn’t push through a week, the whole progress seemed to come to a halt. I’m not really sure how this happened, but it made me realize that as the project leader, you should always make sure people are busy doing work. I really dropped the ball on this leadership thing, but I did learn a valuable lesson.

From Bad To Worse

In the end, things got worse. One teammate was unable to deliver his work on time and kept coming in late. This was very frustrating to deal with especially when we tried to work hard enough to get the project finished in time. The other two teammates did their work on time, even though one of them wasn’t able to achieve the level of professionalism in her work that we expected. The other teammate was a joy to work with. Very motivated, independent and able to do her tasks well. We did everything we could to get the project nice and done before the deadline where we would present our work, and we barely managed. I was late at the day of presentations, but luckily the real event would start an hour or more after I arrived. The teammate who was late the whole time, was late again. Our product was examined twice, by teams of teachers and people of the Openluchtmuseum before he arrived. I was very disappointed in him.

The worst part was the grading. We were the only team that didn’t pass the presentation. A really hard blow on all of us and I blame myself for not understanding what we did wrong earlier. Our concept was too vague and we weren’t able to show the idea in full. Also, we made some presumptions about the Openluchtmuseum that backfired hard. They did not like how we made a physical installation that had a real cannon-like contraption. They thought it was dangerous. We also wanted to add someone who handled the interactive installation for the visitors, which they did not like at all.

Not all is lost, though. If our mentor for the project, a teacher at the HKU, will grade us on our overall process, as well as grade us for the documentation we made of the whole project. If we get grades high enough for these two, then we might pass the project after all, but I’m not sure how things will turn out. If we fail, we will have to do retake the whole project, and I fear this result. I do not want to do the whole project again, especially not with a teammate who I can cooperate with.

Lessons

First of all, I hope I can choose my teammates for any project from now on. The next project will give us this opportunity and I have already been busy getting two people who I know can work hard on my team. It’s a lot of trial and error and I guess that’s why it’s education. Building a team adds another dimension to working on a project, but I believe I know what to look for in people. People who are motivated and capable of doing well on their own or with little help.
Secondly, there is a lot of work to do on my end. I need to communicate more and actually try to keep people to their word, while staying true to my word as well. I delivered work late sometimes, but no-one said anything about it. There were no repercussions for it. This gave me too much room to slack off and because of this, I didn’t tell the others they should have delivered their work on time.  I think I could solve this by stating deadlines and the repercussions of not making them clearly up front. I should also point out to my team that I might not be the best at delivering work on time either, and urging them to keep my word when I make promises.
Lastly, I should never stop guiding my team when there is work to do. I should talk to them more often about what they are doing for the project and how it’s working out for them. This might help remind them what to do and how to do it, as there always seemed to be some misunderstandings when the work was delivered.
To condense this all to a few words would be: motivation, clarity, honesty and perseverance. If I take those points into my next project, I’m sure I’ll be able to get a grade that isn’t just enough, but a grade that is satisfying for the work we put into it.

I hope this was an interesting read to you about my last project and how it turned out. I am still trying to find a good way to present my thoughts and work on a professional level, so any tips are welcome. If you have other questions or if you would like to get into contact with me, you can mail me at b.bakker92@gmail.com

EDIT:
I have been informed by one of my teammates (the one who I found hard to work with) that I have not given all the information, which is correct. He told me that this was an unfair assesment of what work he had put in the project, which is true. The truth is that he was someone who was very motivated and creative during the whole project, and he was able to do large amounts of work in little time. The problem is that he was chaotic by nature, something that I am not at all. This caused confusion and misunderstandings. As I was the project leader, I felt like I wasn’t being listened to because of this. I was of the opinion that working as a team is more important than getting a product done in a day.
I did not write all of this because I was afraid the post would become too long and that I would talk too much about my teammates, and too little about the course of the project. I hope I did his request justice and that I am done with this situation.

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