Try, try again — The formula for forming groups

May 18 2015

The first day on the job began as most first days do: a nervous, shy awkwardness. My ten coworkers and I sat on our phones, scanning our emails, thumbing through tweets, texting people who were elsewhere, until Executive Director John Clark broke the silence.

On that day, it was hard to foresee that I would be on a team with a lively and compatible spirit. I didn’t doubt that a hardworking, work ethic would exist in whatever team I was ultimately placed. The first week — where other internships might orient their employees with a history and typical overview of projects to be executed over the summer — really provided all 11 interns with a chance to work together and get to know one another.

Summer interns brainstorm ideas.

Summer interns brainstorm ideas. Photo: Samantha Harrington

Within the first hour, we were already in groups of four for our first team building exercise. We were charged with the task to build the farthest-flying airplanes in 30 minutes with three teammates who were randomly drawn from a bucket. Because we were unfamiliar with our team members, we used that time to get to know who we were working with, what their interests are and how they interact in a group setting.

The groups for our next task, the Hackathon challenge, were formed in a similar fashion: colored toys were randomly selected from a basket, then groups of the same color constituted a team. The Hackathon, however, posed a bigger challenge.

In a team of four, we had to design an idea that would hypothetically solve or improve young-voter apathy in municipal elections. This hackathon experience was a microscopic simulation of our summer experience at Reese News Lab. In the experience, we had to address an issue through creative measures, making a product that was desirable, feasible and viable. In the other words, was the product wanted or needed? Was it something that could be created? And was it sustainable? Over the course of the next two days, my peers and I were able to get to know three new people, their work ethics, and an idea of how the summer might go.

By the time day four rolled around, the awkwardness had subsided. Our trip into Raleigh, where we consulted with some of the stakeholders who were interested in the products we would create, was enough to solidify the camaraderie that earlier interactions had created.

The opportunity to work together in a variety of situations proved itself to be beneficial when it came time to choose our summer-long groups on Friday, the last day of our first week at Reese.

Smith reads ideas off the brainstorm matrix.

Smith reads ideas off the brainstorm matrix. Photo: Samantha Harrington

Unlike our other experiences, names were not drawn from a bucket and our groups were not random. We were assigned team members based on our project preferences. It just so happened to work out that four people were interested in working on a data project, four people were interested in working on online conversations project, and three people wanted to work on a court transparency project.

Although we were placed into groups differently from our past experiences, those experiences proved to be beneficial. In those micro-experiences, we were able to see who worked well with others, who had developed friendships (keeping in mind that golden rule of never doing business with friends or family), what roles people take in a group dynamic (who was a leader, who was a facilitator, who was a doer, etc.) and our project preferences. That was the best possible formula — at least for this group of 11 — to split into teams. There was no rhyme or reason to forming teams, other than to test and keep testing until we found the groups that worked best.

And that is the larger framework of how Reese News Lab works, right? To keep testing our ideas, our products, our solutions until we have the best prototype we could have possibly created.


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