Apologies for the long absence. I will try to blog more often in 2014, but I can’t promise a return to regular service. My MSc is becoming far too demanding now.

It’s not the workload exactly, though that is… not insubstantial. It’s more that as it continues, the course lays greater and greater emphasis on teamwork. We had a project to complete in every module last semester, and now we are facing into the most important one of all. Known, with unnerving simplicity, as the ”The Major Project”, it is effectively our Masters thesis.

Can you imagine that, those of you who have postgraduate degrees – thesis by team? Your group assessment of Sylvia Plath’s earlier work? Your collective opinion of mediaeval Italian prosody? Weird.

And for me, alien. I simply have no experience of working in teams. I am a loner – to the point at times of social dysfunctionality. I’ve always been self-employed, generally liaising only with an editor, often being left entirely alone to do my art thing.

I’ve never even played team games. Sure, they try to make you in school. But you notice what they forget? To tell you how. It’s like you’re meant to be born knowing the rules of soccer or whatever. So sport as I understood it largely meant standing in the cold, wondering what the hell was expected of me. Occasionally a crowd would thunder in my general direction and, yes, then there might be some instructions. But even these would tend to be lamentably short on detail and clarity.

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While I’m here, can I mention something else to sport-obsessed educators? Children don’t learn teamwork from adult-size sides. Eleven or fifteen kids is not a team. lt’s a pack.

Thanks in part to this misguided introduction to cooperation I was a pretty hopeless team player at first – and especially, leader. You know the saying “I never ask my people to do something I couldn’t do myself”? My variation was to never ask anyone to do a thing I hadn’t done already. But I think I’ve learned to relax and trust people more.

Which leads me back to my point. Working for myself, I can justify taking a break in all sorts of ways. Maybe I need it, maybe I deserve it. Maybe I just feel like it – I’m the boss after all. Now compare that to a teamwork situation where not only my own degree, and hence my future, depends on the work I put in, but the futures of three or four other people. That’s a whole different standard of pressure.

So between now and the end of June, I guess I’m going to be keeping it pithy.

Doing Teamwork By Yourself

The Engineering Faculty has some fairly decent overhead projectors

For our first project, we have to work in teams. But how can we build them when as yet we have little idea of each other’s skills, talents, and weaknesses?

I thought Well, apply communications technology, and took it upon myself to create a message board. With this we could discuss stuff when we weren’t in college, get to know each other better. And as an adjunct I thought we might have a spreadsheet – online but closed to non-members – where we could volunteer skills information; easy enough to set up with Google Docs. This would be helpful to everybody, but it would also demonstrate the useful sort of stuff I can do. Why, people would be bidding to have me join their project teams.

I got quite into this for a couple of days. When I looked up, everyone had formed into groups without me.

Fortunately there were enough of us left over to form another group. Team Not So Savvy At Team Stuff, we could call ourselves. Though actually I think this unusual selection process has left us with a pretty good assortment.

Perhaps not the best organised though. We had our first team meeting today. Only two of us turned up, and one of those was an hour late. OK that was me. I’d been up far too late trying to catch up with my reading on the whole area of project management. I learned a lot in theory, but in the morning completely failed the practical.

I know it’s a terrible cliché, but as my alarm blared away, doggedly failing to wake me, I actually had one of those anxiety dreams where you find yourself in an exam you’re completely unprepared for. I know, someone whose been through an exam system gets those dreams for the rest of their life, even when the cause for anxiety is wholly unrelated.

Only here I actually was failing to prepare for something I’m soon going to be graded on. So really it was hardly a dream at all. More just my subconscious doing a sardonic voice-over.