Working on Teams (Tue Sep 12, lecture 4)

Homework due for today

Legend: : Participation | : Early | : PDF | : Portfolio | : Zipped

  1. Monkey: Read the article “Management Time: Who’s got the monkey”. It’s a classic from the Harvard Business Review, they say the most purchased reprint. This paper is a classic of personal and team effectiveness. Think about it and your gut reaction to it. Do you understand it from your own experience? Have you tried to put the monkey on someone else? Has a peer or manager or professor tried to put a monkey on your back. Do you think the perspective of this article is constructive or manipulative? Deliverable: Submit your response.
  2. Working in Teams Read the “Working In Teams” section, right below this. Last time I got feedback from the teams that they would have liked more help in being effective as a team. I would like your personal feedback on what I wrote. Is this all common sense? Have you already had lots of experience working in teams? Did you see anything that you really disagreed with? Name one or two things that you would like to learn more about, didn’t understand, or found particularly interesting. Are you prepared to use these techniques? Deliverable: Brief response to the writeup addressing these or other questions.
  3. Review: Look at this cool site: Indie Hackers. Poke around it and read 3 projects that interest you. I would like you to tell me what 3 you picked, give a one or two sentence summary of what the product is, and tell me one idea you got from reading it that you might be able to use. Deliverable: Write up answering those questions.
  4. As I see myself: Do the As I see myself profile. Here’s a link to the As I see Myself PDF

Working in Teams

NB You're not trying to become best friends with your teammates. You're trying to get something done!

In all my courses I ask students to form teams to work on projects together. I have seen them succeed and have seen them struggle. These notes are based on this hard won experience with student run teams.


A key challenge is to establish the “norms” or the “culture” of your team. What I mean by that is the unspoken or spoken ettiquette or understandings. For example, how often you meet, how much you care about being punctual, how you give each other feedback, how you deal with conflict.

Each team, even of just four people, might handle things a little diffferently. In a college course, which runs only 13 weeks, this there’s not a whole lot of time for these things to happen organically. This means that everyone needs to pitch in a little extra to it a fun and useful experience for everyone. Here are some tips:

  • One of the big challenges is to find time to meet, so try to be flexible.
    • As a team, choose a fixed time and place to meet every week. Be flexible.
    • Your first meeting is very important.
  • Each member honestly say what your personal goals are for this course:
    • This course is my most important, I really care and will do anything to be successful
    • Or, I have a heavy courseload, I will do what I can but I have to balance
    • Or, I am perfectly happy with a “B”, don’t expect intensity from me.
  • If everyone knows each other’s perspective this will set expectations
  • Each member of the team is responsible for their own work and for the welbeing of the team
  • Talk about how you will make decisions, for example:
    • Democratic vote
    • Decide or chose a leader to have final say
    • Divide up the domain (front end/back end/ etc) and assign it to people.
  • Be sensitive to everyone’s particular constraints
    • My belief is that every single person on the team is doing their best given their own situation.
    • If it seems like someone is not doing their best, or somehow being counterproductivetry to figure out their situation or ask them. Once you understand the context things often make sense and you can leave any anger or resentment behind.
  • Commitment and enthusiasm
    • Keep each other to a high standard
    • Be enthusiastic and committed
    • If one person didn’t hold their end up this week, don’t let that discourage you or lead you to not hold up your end next week.


Desipite everyone’s best intention and good will, there is usually some small amount of disagreement or conflict. This is totally normal and to be expected. In fact when you see it happening you can think to yourself: “Aha, there it is, I was expecting this and I can roll with it.” But very occasionally things can suddenly become really challenging. Here are some tips:

  • Working in teams can suddenly become CHALLENGING
  • There is a non-zero probability that you will not get along with someone in your team
  • Be ready for this and take it in stride. “Whoops, there it is!”
  • You are not married, you are not best friends, you are just working on this project, now
  • Don’t try to resolve the conflict in email, it never works!
  • Fight the reluctance to have to sit with someone and talk about an awkward subject.


I will often assign you to meet for 1 or 2 hours with your teammates to work on your product, or brainstorm your product, or decide on a direction. I have observed the team mates sitting around, very motivated to have a good meeting but not knowing really where to start or what to talk about. Here are some tips:

  • Ask each other to articulate their understanding of the product. This is called “getting alignment”. You will be surprised to know that it is a very common mistake for a team not to realize that one or half the team is thinking of a totally different (or at least, significantly differnt) concept than the others. “I never thought of this as a free service”, “I thought we agreed that this product is specifically for parents with children” or “I heard the user interviews and no one ever said that they would be willing to pay for this product!”.

  • Do not sweep lack of alignment under the rug. If you detect that one or more team members are thinking differently, bring that up and discuss it. Do the hard (and sometimes a little awkward) work of trying to reconcile the difference, or persuading, or letting yourself be persuaded. It will really pay off with a better result.

  • It is not unusual and quite healthy if one of the team members volunteers to kind of lead the meeting. Perhaps that person will write notes on the whiteboard, or encourage members who are quiet to speak up, or even to try to divvy up the work by asking for example, “John, would you be able to design the survey?” and so on. You can be that person or you can be supportive of whoever takes on that role. Don’t force it, it often happens by itself.

  • Keeping time: A meeting often begins with a few minutes of social talk, and that’s fine. But remember that everyone in the meeting has a lot of other obligations and so everyone must contribute to keeping the meeting on track. It is very useful to begin the meeting with a summary of why you are meeting

Here are some totally made up random examples of meeting starters
  • “We are going to look over our current list of trello stories and try to reprioritize if necessary, and have each person sign up for some so everyone can know who is doing what”

  • “We are going to look over the notes we took at our last converation with users and together see what we want to change as a result of that”

  • “We have 2 weeks to go. We are going to review exactly what tasks are left to make sure they are all covered.””

  • “We are not really happy with the product idea we have so far. Lets take 30 minutes to brainstorm. First let’s summarize what we have right now. What other variations or ideas do we have?”


NB An in class exercise led by Karen Warner
  1. Locate the .pdf in Latte or in your email. In Latte it will be an attached file. Look for it there.
  2. Page 1 is the most important. You will see phrases in vertical groups of 4. Read each group and circle one of the four phrases as the one that describes you, as a member of this class and project (as opposed to who you are with friends or family, which is probably different.) Don’t overthink the answer. Go fast but read all the phrases.
  3. When you are done tally the results in the 4 boxes at the top. How many “C”s did you circle, how many “S” did you circle, etc. The total will be 24. 3) Look at pages 2,3,4 and mark up page 5 according to instructions there.
  4. Follow instructions on page 7 to identify your style combinations. For example, I (Pito) and an Analyzer Persuader, and my alternate style is Analyzer Controller. Karen will tell us how good/evil that is. What are you?
  5. Locate your style preferences on pages 8-18, read the description for yours. Circle the phrases that sound most like you and cross off the ones that sound least like you.
  6. Bring your worksheets to class and submit for this assignment simply your preferred and alternate style.

Pito’s Histogram

Next Class

  • Look at homework: MVP