Advice > Question


How do you work well as a group on difficult projects when you have a different style of doing things than other students? I’m a bit of a perfectionist and sometimes struggle with teamwork.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

That maxim can be found emblazoned on posters, above doorways, and littered throughout the internet library of memes. Its ubiquity is likely ascribed to its positive messaging: individuals working together can help achieve a common purpose.

But that’s not always the case.

The progress that teamwork helps to advance can get mired in a clash of personalities, stylistic differences, egos, and philosophical disagreements. Nick Saban, the Alabama football coach— known to some as ‘The Perfectionist’— has been associated with this truism: “mediocre people don’t like high achievers, and high achievers don’t like mediocre people.” That can be especially true in the veterinary healthcare setting where mediocrity can lead to suboptimal and sometimes deadly results.

To help make your group projects, teamwork sessions, or any group collaboration a successful one, follow these helpful Collab Cues.

Collab Cue #1: Candid communication

Sure, most of us believe that we can speak honestly with one another but when major disagreements arise, speaking candidly becomes exponentially more difficult.  Depending on your personality and the specific situation, expressing unadulterated honesty and undiluted candor can be challenging. Your reticence may stem from the deep and abiding respect you have for your peers or, conversely, the solmen disappointment in the ideas being presented. For some, revealing their raw opinions in a group setting can be foreboding, especially if it results in unsettling tension. Rather than look at the potential negative blow-back from speaking frankly, view this time as an opportunity. Honesty allows your ideas to be heard. Your ideas are likely excellent and the group will build on them to make them even better. Your honesty potentially provides opportunities for others to be honest as well. It’s a signal that your group is a safe place for others to express their opinions in a respectful manner. Perhaps most importantly, this is an opportunity to make your deep relationships with your peer group more inveterate. By being open and transparent about your personal opinions, it strengthens the group structure and forestalls the group from crumbling in the future. Essentially, candor is a protective tool that guards against personal squabbles, group setbacks, and damaged relationships.

Collab Cue #2: Inclusive communication

It’s not a coincidence that the first two Collab Cues relate to communication. It’s that important. Language is powerful and consciously choosing to use inclusive language can be the difference between bringing out the best ideas in your team or feeling like you’re being quietly ostracized. Inclusive language is a way to express your ideas while simultaneously showing those that you care about theirs. It connotes respect and fairness.  In a word, inclusive language shows empathy. Empathy is particularly important in a group setting.  If you consider the personal ideas of your teammates as tiny windows into their personality, then a flat out rejection of their ideas can feel like they’re being attacked ad hominem.  Whenever possible, use inclusive communication pronouns and nouns like our, we, team, teammates, partners, and the group instead of describing all of your ideas in the first person with I, my, or me. The human brain can’t help but pay attention to repetition so if you provide constant and consistent reminders that you are all working together, the ideals of cooperation and collaboration will spread like a contagion. Moreover, it may help to make your ideas and your style more palatable to other members in the group. Inclusive language signals selflessness and an abdication of personal agenda. That implicit sentiment will make your teammates more receptive to what you have to say. Initially, it’s challenging to adjust your diction to be more inclusive without occasional slip-ups. If you feel it’s necessary to use a first personal pronoun or if you simply forgot to use inclusive pronoun, pepper your thoughts with other inclusive adjectives and verbs like, imagine, collaborate, excellent, and curious. When your teammates glean that you are not only including your own ideas, but you are actively encouraging them to share ideas of their own, the team experience will be enhanced.

Collab Cue #3: Lead, follow, or get out of the way

How are great leaders judged? Indeed, it’s fascinating to watch how groups evaluate and ultimately settle on their leader(s). The leader isn’t always the most boisterous, bellicose, or hot-tempered. True leadership is more nuanced than being the loudest in the room. Leadership involves supporting your team and helping the group work towards success. This style of leadership can be found in the form of offering great ideas, implementing and executing someone else’s ideas, or providing necessary resources. An example of leadership could be a team member asking, “What if we changed our goal to include…” and a different type of leadership can also include someone who suggests, “I like that goal, I will reserve a conference room in the library so we have more room to work.” Securing resources (i.e. a more ideal environment), the best books/education, and other knowledgeable people to help you accomplish the goal, are all forms of leadership. These less traditional forms of leadership —which some call servant leaders—may be uniquely beneficial especially if your group is unreceptive to your work style and ideas. Your leadership and management style sets the tone. By showing that you help others with alacrity may cause others in your team to do the same. Furthermore, that spirit of altruism may lead someone, who perhaps was previously dismissive of your ideas, to reconsider.

Team-based accomplishment takes the dedicated resolve of all of its members. For example, in the veterinary healthcare setting, goals usually include working towards an improved health status for our patients, having positive client interactions, and advancing One Health wellness. Gaining the skills to work well in a healthcare team takes practice and that practice starts in the beginning of your educational journey. Perfectionism is inimical to team goals and it can also be disruptive. A perfectionist in a group work setting works more like a great player when an excellent team player is what’s truly needed.

Success in group projects will require honest communication, inclusive language, and leadership.  Make a small short hand copy of these Collab Cues and place it strategically on the inside of your notebook. If you find yourself feeling frustrated or defeated, just quickly reference which one you think is missing from the group. Once you start taking your Cues, others will too, and you’ll be able to watch in real-time as your group excels.

Best of luck in your journey.





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