Go Team (sorta)!

This post was written by Katlyn Whittenburg, the Campus Director at The Iron Yard Austin. Check out her bio and follow her on twitter!

This week is half done already. Sheesh! It’s been a fun one so far! Our design students started on Monday. Love getting new students.


Our design students learning the ways of web design from Sam Kapila

I have had collaboration on my mind this week quite a bit.  A large part of what I do is helping the students gain the most from this intense experience. Offering some guidance and help and even a hug or two. Sometimes you just need a hug! (Just for the record, I am not a hugger, but I love my job so I’ll hug if it’s what needs to happen.) I reflect often on what I’m doing that works, what doesn’t work, and what I need to improve upon.

This week has demonstrated to me the importance of embracing differences. Each of our students brings his or her own history, goals, fears, struggles and skills to the program. And all these things affect how they learn and how they interact with their instructors, with me and with the other students. Even more interesting to me is how different each class is. One class may be super social, while students in another may keep to themselves more. Upon noticing drastic differences between our classes, I realized I need to devote some real thought to what this means for me and the instructors. Is there a right way and a wrong way? Should both classes strive to be more outgoing and collaborate more? Isn’t collaboration the way to success in the tech field? Heck! In life?

I decided to do a little research into the value of teamwork and collaboration and found some interesting information on the disadvantages of teamwork. WHAAA? Aren’t teams amazing and beautiful and special and sacred? Well…. far too often, not really. Often politics gets in the way of progress. Fear of rocking the boat or not fitting in or even the fear of not saying things in a PC way could keep people from really collaborating effectively. Should there be a leader? If so, who? Does that person want to be a leader? Can the leader still be your friend? Teams are pretty complicated little societies, and those complications can end up watering down innovation and replacing actual progress with pleasantly mediocre work done by pleasantly mediocre people. Not cool.

Why am I talking about this? Well, I’ll tell you! I have to admit that I originally thought that the quieter class should aspire to be way less quiet, and much more collaborative. And while I do not think that is completely incorrect, I have now lessened the expectation for the intensity at which they should accomplish this. And what helped me reach this conclusion, in addition to the research, is asking the students, themselves, why they don’t usually work together outside of lecture. The answers made perfect sense. People need a break; They work better without the distractions of other students. And the like. These are very valid reasons to not stay and work in groups every single day.

BUT the problem with this non-collaborative approach is that when learning a new skill, seeing others work through the same problems you are facing and being able to work through these problems with someone of approximately the same skill level is super helpful. He or she may think of tactics that would have never crossed your mind and vice versa. You will have help if you get stuck, but you also won’t be fed the exact right answer, which allows you to work through the process of figuring it out. And this process of figuring it out is the whole point. To become a great developer, you have to be a great problem solver. And working with others helps with this.

So the conclusion I have drawn from all this is that teamwork is not the simple and clear way to success. It’s a challenge, in and of itself, to create a truly effective team- one in which each person feels as if he/she accomplished something out of the collaboration. Here at The Iron Yard Austin, I want to strive to inspire great teamwork and great collaboration because in the “real world,” that’s what many jobs call for. But I also want to learn ways to get great work from people in a way that is efficient and rewarding for them. And so forcing the “quieter” class to collaborate on every little thing, in my opinion, is not a way to get great work from them.

It’s a balance between challenging people to go outside their comfort zones so they can grow, but also allowing individuals to be themselves and work the way they work best. I don’t think enough people actually think about what working in a team should look like and put an effort into making sure the team is truly benefitting everyone. And that is why I am thinking about this…so that I am not one of those people.

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About theironyard

The Iron Yard exists to create exceptional growth and mentorship for people, their companies and their ideas through code education and startup accelerators.