So, the design challenge is over. I’ve learned a lot from this experience, and if I was to go over all that I’ve learned, this would be less of a blog post and more of a paper, which isn’t exactly what I’m going for. Instead of flaring out to some large degree, I’d like to zoom in to a key part of the design-challenge experience: Your team, and everything that it does.

The team aspect of a design challenge is one that has a little “pull” depending on the challenge. You could work with 2 of your closest colleagues, or maybe 8 co-workers that you’ve only spent a minimal amount of time with. Perhaps your team changes as the stages of the process go by, or maybe you’re committed to a certain group of people throughout the challenge. Regardless, You’re all in this together, and that should be immediately apparent as soon as you start working together. The “aura” of a team, for complete lack of a better word, can really make or break the people, process, and even product. Humans subconsciously feed off of others energy, and if 50% of the team loves the challenge and the process, while the other 50% of team views the whole thing as the lone obstacle looming in front of lunch, there’s going to be gobs of conflict throughout the entire time you’re working together.

ZOOM OUT!!

In the beginning, my team did not work well at all. We have a few, er, contrasting personalities, as well as a few withdrawn types. There were clashes and stare-downs, as well as a few interventions, but above all, there wasn’t any positive energy. Not once did I see anyone come into work-time with a smiling face that said they were ready to work. People shuffled into their seats, opened their laptops, and didn’t communicate unless absolutely needed to. Now, there is something to be said about lack of communication when you’re “in the zone”, but when I walked around the workspace to the other group’s areas, I saw communication, smiles, teamwork, and serious positive energy. I became happy, interested in what was going on, and wanted to learn more about other people’s projects. Then, when I returned back to my team, I saw the blank faces, idle hands, and sighed. Good energy is not some marketing buzzword that gets thrown on promotional material, it’s a immediate byproduct of a team that’s doing it right.

ZOOM BACK IN!!

I know I’ve kept mentioning communication, and I think that it’s a serious part of actually being a team. It goes without saying that, when you’re working on a challenge like this one, there is on-time and off-time. On-time is the minutes/hours/days that you (as a team) spend working on the challenge together, where communication can be with words, instant messages, quick glances, etc., while off-time is the time in which you’re not actively working. There is where communication needs to settle in as the norm. Sure you may not be talking about the challenge actively, but if you need to interview/contact/present to someone and your team doesn’t know, everyone is at fault for not establishing a network of communication and a environment where it is encouraged. After all, is it really a team if you only talk to each other at the beginning of a one-hour work period, and then go off into your respective corners?

ZOOM OUT!!

Yes, there’s absolutely something to be said for working by yourself/in groups of two/in quiet spaces/ with your headphones in, but there must be a bonding network that can connect you and the rest of your group at a moments notice. If you don’t have that network, as my team did not, you’re closer to simply spreading your resources out than working in the “optimal personal environment”. In the last few weeks of the design challenge, we had 3 groups of two working on entirely different ends of the building, with little to no communication in between. Only when our advisor called us together did we ever (reluctantly) share what we all had so far, and that is absolutely not the right way to go about it.

ZOOM BACK IN!!

When I think of a team, I personally think of the Autobots. Everyone had a job to do and excel at, all while being able to kick serious robot butt and save the Earth while doing it. The reality is, teamwork is usually nothing like that, especially in an environment that this design challenge. We all had different skill levels, interest levels, and energy levels, and it seriously showed. And you know what? That should be okay. Design thinking in itself is a process of constant learning, and that can and should reflect itself on the team environment. When we went into this challenge, we knew that some people had just starting design thinking, and were shaky on the whole thing. While I’ve been saying that this design challenge as a whole was a learning experience (seriously guys, 2nd sentence), there can never been too much learning, and I think some of the more junior members of our team could have benefitted from both the design challenge and the team environment if we’d had little workshops along the way.

There is a certain Tweet that goes around the Twitterverse about a thousand times a day that, when you take out the myriad variations, substitutions, and emojis, reads “When I die, I want my group project members to lower me into my grave, so that they can let me down one last time.” Now, as a high school student I always chuckle at this, because everyone has 4 or 5 really bad school project stories that usually end up in a bad grade, and a scolding from a teacher. However, when I enter my design-thinking mindset that takes white-out to the idea of grades and teachers, I start to wonder what exactly went wrong in those groups of past times. Design thinking, like Mario Kart, is something that shines when you “play” with a group of people. Sure, sometimes the group of people isn’t your ideal group, and maybe some people are downers or don’t know how to play, but if you take the time to establish a solid network of communications, actively help your teammates reach goals and excel on their work, and first and foremost bring a positive energy to the group, you can absolutely thrive and succeed in your design challenge.

And remember, what good is taking 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th as separate entities when you can all be tied for 1st as a group?

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