Remember the team. Forget yourself.

Jul 14 2015

The more time I have spent at Reese News Lab, the more I’ve learned how to do things differently from the habits I formed in journalism school. That isn’t a knock to journalism school, nor an all-encompassing stamp of approval for the Reese News Lab approach. I think it’s an opportunity to look at multiple ways of educating students. The more ideas we gather about approaches to educating journalism students, the better equipped we are to identify the best ideas.

I’m a recent graduate. As I look back at the many years of schooling I’ve had (somewhere, a med student is groaning), I see that some of these habits were formed as early as my elementary school days. I further solidified many of them in journalism school. (I was going to make a comment about how j-school is like “being thrown into a cesspool of students who have these same habits, leading to their constant, subtle reinforcement,” but I couldn’t find a sufficiently benign synonym for “cesspool.”)

My time at Reese has called these habits to my attention because the way we’re encouraged to work here is very different. Since I’m working in a way that often feels foreign to me, I spend a lot of time questioning myself. I’ll wonder, “Do I even know anything about working on a team?” or “Is my gut instinct really the best way of approaching this task?” It’s frustrating. It’s challenging. But, I notice myself growing as a worker and aspiring entrepreneur every week.

The most striking example is my approach to teamwork. I’ve noticed a big change in my teamwork habits since I’ve started working at the Lab.

Benner and her team practice pitching.

Benner and her team practice pitching.

When my friends ask me what I do, I often describe my job as “one continuous group project.” Cue my friends’ contorted frowny faces. As any human who has worked with other humans knows, group projects are hard. In the past, the stress has pushed me to try to get group projects done as quickly as possible. I usually wasn’t invested in the work we were doing. My habit was to delve into whatever reserve of motivation I had to crank it out. I typically saw my teammates as people who were there to contribute to the completion of individual tasks. Since group projects in school were usually short term with little intermittent accountability or guidance about working on teams, this type of fragmented team dynamic was commonplace in my experience.

At Reese News Lab, we prioritize our team and our project. The most valuable asset I have is my teammates. I can’t just rely on myself to crank out this project. Our objective is too complicated, and I’m not good at everything.

I’ve learned that forgetting myself, in a sense, is a way to embrace this. My focus is our team dynamic, not on myself. I desire that the best ideas win, not just the ones I come up with. And, this has a wonderful cyclical effect. Since I’m less focused on myself, my average stress level is lower. Our team dynamic isn’t perfect (for more on that, read my teammate Danny Nett’s lab report from last week), but our collective focus on the team helps us to rectify team issues soon after they develop.

This approach also helps us to trust one another. It’s a principle I can go back to when my teammate does something I don’t understand. Instead of jumping to conclusions, I remember that I trust my teammates to put our team and our project first. This foundation is beneath everything we do. Since our selves aren’t the top priority, we are able to overcome challenges as a team, make decisions based on the best ideas, and move toward the best version of our product as fast as possible.

There’s balance with this. Prioritizing the team doesn’t always mean deferring to my teammates when we disagree about the merits of Path A versus Path B. We discuss both sides and compare the data that supports each path. We come to a conclusion and move forward.

My education had a large emphasis placed on skills – writing a story, designing an infographic, and developing a communication audit. The educational focus was on the what. I’m thankful that I was taught these skills (without which I could not have written this lab report). But when I was placed on a team for a group project, my focus was primarily on what we had to produce, and not on developing an good team dynamic.

At Reese News Lab, I learn the how. I learn how to create a good team dynamic. I get experience with supporting that dynamic on a daily basis, and that yields a good outcome. First, we place our trust in the team – and then we create a great product.


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