Just a few weeks away from my second Multimedia Certificate, and I have done a lot of team projects along the way. Some I liked, some I dreaded. Here are some of my tips on How to Like Team Projects.

1) Teamwork is best when the team members also work.
2) Do your own work, plus a quick overview of everyone else’s portion.
3) Keep ahead of milestones and deadlines.
4) Share the credit.

Multimedia design is often a team project, at school, and in the work world. The main difference being that in the work world your team members often knew nothing at all about multimedia or design. The key to making it a successful project is to get to know the strengths and limitations of the other team members. Dividing the labor according to strengths is more productive than trying to divide the labor equally. Teamwork is best when the team members also work. At the first meeting you will quickly discover who is good at dividing up big projects into smaller ones, and who is excited about only specific parts of the discussion. If one member brings in nothing but criticism, evaluate their ideas to measure whether the bases are being covered, and consider steering them toward improving their own piece. The one who is always sketching is going be useful, but so is the one who is taking the terribly detailed notes, and the one who has to ‘do something’ while others talk. Find their strengths and establish as soon as possible that each team member is the current ‘expert’ on their portion of the project. Mutual respect for each other’s talents will build a stronger team.

What about the person, or people, who do not seem to be doing anything? This is the part we all dislike the most, working with people who do not answer emails, or  do not bring in their rough drafts, or do not show up at meetings. My stress saving tip is- Do your own work, plus a quick overview of everyone else’s portion. You will inevitably run across bits that are useful to the other members as you work through your own research, which you can pass on, and you can also work up a simple outline of that portion of your own. Going that far is not even extra work. You will be more helpful to the other team members if you see the claws on the bear they are wrestling. If presentation day comes and you end up handing your notes to your empty handed team member, the presentation will look much better to your client or teacher. You will keep your job or get a better grade, outshine them by being better informed, and avoid spending all of your energy trying to get the non-producers to keep up with the schedule. Working members will appreciate the collaboration and the team will get more done in a shorter time.

Somewhere along the timeline, the amount of work remaining appears much larger than the amount of time to do it. The best way to avoid failure is to keep ahead of milestones and deadlines. Deadlines, to high achievers, feel like actual bullets we need to outrun. To less motivated team members, deadlines are whizzing sounds that barely graze their heads. Large projects are more approachable when broken up into smaller, sequential, parts of the whole. Co-workers will be bringing in their current progress to inform the team, and share parts that the others need to move on to the next phase. Setting reasonable goals for the project, and for individuals, is part of the planning process. When it appears that the job is bigger than the timeline, it helps look at all the pieces in progress while imagining that the big presentation is tomorrow. If the team has to present tomorrow they will all shower, put on extra deodorant, polish their smiles, and dress nicely. The project will need some cleanup and polish. Look at that project in progress and try to imagine what is the quickest way to get it ready. This should help you easily see the loose ends and put emphasis on the most presentable parts of the project.

When the big day comes, the team will present their finished project, and it will be great. It is ready to go, and they bought it with big smiles on their faces. They looked it all over and they saw all the finished parts. You feel pride as they rave about the extra little bits you added on for the sheer love of it, the parts you did not mind staying up late to finish. The buyers, bosses and evaluators are all impressed. In a perfect world, your names all have stars next to them in everyone’s mind, and your team will be remembered next time they have an important client. Eventually, some of you will be noted for consistently being on the winning team, possibly being selected to choose the members of the next winning team… unless… all they can think about was how hard it was to pull it off, all the arguments between the team members, the parts that were left off because of uncooperative backbiting. Ideally, the most professional thing to do is keep team problems behind the scenes, where no one outside the team can see them. In the end, the team is being presented too. People who are good at building teamwork are always on the winning team. As hard as it may sound, share the credit.

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