Hello, my name is David McKay and I am a senior evaluator at Kentucky University’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service. We help to improve lifelong opportunities and services for individuals with disabilities, their families, and the community. Our evaluation team works on a variety of projects, the number of which has grown over the years we’ve worked together. I want to share some lessons I’ve learned on the advantages and challenges of a team approach.
Lessons Learned: Highlighting Advantages
- The biggest advantage is that work products are much better as a result of working in teams. Working collaboratively, we create higher quality analysis and better applications of that analysis to client needs.
- Another advantage is a team’s diverse points of view. We all bring different complementary strengths. We’re able to see a more accurate picture because sometimes we bump heads and we listen to one another.
- Teamwork makes everyone better. Team members step up their game because no one wants to let the team down or hold the team back. And we set the bar collectively because we all bring our own strengths.
- Working in teams fosters creativity and nurtures new ideas. Working together, someone will have one idea, someone else will have another idea, and that will feed into another. Pretty soon we’re moving in a really fun way. All of our different directions weave together in a way that works.
Lessons Learned: Addressing Challenges
- In general, teams move at a slower pace than individuals. The tradeoff for a better product is worth the time once you understand and accept that reality.
- We need more thoughtful and reflective hiring practices. You can’t just hire for skills, you have to hire people who will complement the team. However, this can be a delicate balance between hiring people who “fit” and hiring people who bring valuable, diverse styles and perspectives. Cultivate a team with different areas of expertise, backgrounds, experiences and points of view. You can do this by casting a wide net into places talent and ideas may be hiding (such as nonprofit networks, the sciences, corporate spaces, etc.) and carefully on-boarding people so that they get acclimated early.
- Make sure that roles, responsibilities and tasks are delineated clearly. Sometimes if tasks aren’t clearly assigned, productivity slows down and it can be difficult to assess the performance of individuals or the team.
- Empathy and trust are a must, which can be hard for some people.
- The team must understand the vision behind the work. The team must understand what it is trying to accomplish. A wonderful team with no vision will just spin in circles.
- Be flexible.
- Share calendars. Write everything down. Set deadlines.
- Establish and communicate your culture early.
- Build trust early and consistently.
- Establish a culture of gratitude.
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