Kool Derby

As a university instructor and corporate trainer, I often ask students to form small teams when working on course projects. For the most part, this is an easy process, especially because students will already know each other. Even when they lack acquaintance, they gravitate to people with similar interests.

Darla Was Left Hanging

In Week 1 of a recent face-to-face class, Darla was unable to attend. I remind my students that missing the first week of any class will make it difficult to do well. There is so much that takes place, such as forming teams, discussing course requirements, and communicating expectations.

During the class, I mentioned to the students that Darla needed to be placed on a team, and here are the responses I received:

  • “We don’t want her on our team. She’s a pain!”
  • “She was on our team in the last class, and she hardly ever showed up to our meetings. We definitely don’t want her on our team.”
  • “She is a trouble-maker. At the beginning, she tells you that she will do her part, but pretty much disappears.”
  • “Darla is weird! I don’t know how she stays employed. I guess she works somewhere, but I’m not sure how she made it through the hiring process.”

Moving Forward

Given the feedback provided in Week 1, I decided to speak to Darla separately. I didn’t wait too long because Darla emailed me the day after class asking about her team assignment. I informed her that because she missed the class, we needed to wait for the next session to discuss her team situation.

I could tell by our email communication that she knew something was out of the ordinary. She was aware that other classmates were unwilling to accept her as a teammate. However, my job as the instructor is to find a place for her, and to monitor the performance of each team member. Given that Darla lacked the support of classmates, I had an uphill challenge.

During Week 2, I approached the members of a small team who could benefit by adding another member. They were less than enthusiastic about having Darla on their team, but the participants acquiesced, and she joined their group. I did make it clear that all students needed to meet the requirements, and that I would keep a close on their individual performance.

The Lesson

Much of the work in today’s organizations requires working in teams. In some cases, you are assigned to a project, and it’s imperative that you contribute based on the expectations. If you fall short, the performance of the team suffers.

As much as possible, avoid developing a “poor performance” reputation. In the example used here, Darla will have a difficult time acclimating with the team. She should first try to focus on the work at hand. By doing a good job with her requirements, the team will gain respect for her. Once the team trusts her, she begins the process of rebuilding her reputation. This same advice holds true in work-related projects.