In this second post about our learning journey during our first Hyper Island client project, we will focus more on the soft skills and learnings from working in a team.
For all of us this project has meant a lot of new things. We were all enthusiastic about the fact that this was our first data-related project! Working with Hedvig on their home insurance product was also the first real project where we would practice our teamwork. We all come from different backgrounds with different experiences and ways of doing things and now was the time to put it all to work in order to deliver this first project. In this post we, Anna and Ismail, have chosen to focus on three topics that we will talk about based on our experiences. We hope to give you a glimpse of our adventure and hopefully give you some food for thought as well!
This first Hyper Island client project has been a lot of “firsts” for our class, we concluded that in the module check out. However, one thing that has not been a first for us is the fact that we are almost always online and remote. As covid restrictions were in full swing both when we applied and started the program we have never experienced anything else. So, how did this affect our first big client project? Even though we have known each other since the beginning of August we officially hadn’t met for a month until the start of this module. We hadn’t had the possibility to get to know each other in school as previous classes had done before us. And the one thing you can’t really experience online is the small talk, the chitchat. Chatting before the lecture starts, when you eat together or go for a coffee during a break. You get to know someone on a different level in those moments, peeking into their private life. You can hear stories about their mornings or exercise routine and that paves way for more conversation and a deeper connection. These are things you might not get to share or talk about when you meet online, not because they are secret or embarrassing but rather because these types of conversations do not really happen online, not when you are more than two people at least. And because these conversations don’t always occur naturally in online group conversations you, as a team, have a much greater responsibility to make sure you get to know each other in other ways. Whether it’s short daily check ins or longer ice breaker sessions, as a team you need to make this happen. It goes both for situations like ours, where we needed to get to know each other in order for the group work to run smoothly but it’s also valid for teams where you do know each other from before. Getting to know each other means getting more comfortable and with that comes confidence to contribute but also to question and perhaps also change direction if needed. And that’s where the real magic happens.
Being randomly put together in a group of five people with the aim of working together for five weeks comes with some work, and not only working on the actual project. Together you need to figure out how you want to go about the task, talk about your goals, plan for how to do the work and also set up roles and responsibilities. There are a number of different tools and models you can use to get this going and you can of course choose to spend more or less time on it, as long as you do it. As this type of work can be seen as not really having anything to do with the actual project, it can in general have a bit of a reputation of being unnecessary or even boring. However, in a situation like this where you don’t even know each other that well, talking about these things are crucial for everyone to be on the same page. In general it’s crucial if you want to learn and grow.
What is also crucial, again not only in situations like this, is communication. This can come in any form you like, discussions, written, visual, but it needs to be there and it needs to be ongoing. One of the really good advantages of being online is the tools that you can use, not only shared documents but also collaboration tools such as Miro or Mural. Should the written communication not be enough, you also have the opportunity to visualize it. And it’s not stuck in some class room, you can update it whenever you want and you don’t need to pack it up should you need to relocate. It’s there, collaboratively online, whenever you need it. It’s a great opportunity.
A situation like this, with a new project, new team members and limited time also gives you a crash course in trust, patience and confidence. In record speed you need to build up trust that you can contribute towards the goal you have set up together, you need to have patience in the process because it will not always be a straight line, and you need to have confidence that your final delivery will be great. Buckle up, you’re in for a ride!
Finally, the beauty of all teamwork is that if you let it, it will always teach you something, not only about the actual project and topic you are focusing on but about yourself, your team or just in general. Doing a Point of Departure as well as a Point of Arrival are great ways to create awareness around these things. In a Point of Departure you bring your own point of view (if you don’t have one, you should get one) and mix that with the views of the others in the team. During the project you might learn or see things differently when you see how others do things or tackle challenges. You can bring that into the Point of Arrival as a learning and because of that, when you set out in your next project, your Point of Departure might be slightly different. Actively creating awareness around these things will make them more natural, and it won’t have that feeling of being unnecessary or an extra step. And just like that, you have an endless learning process.
Once we have agreed on scope, purpose and the goal of the project with the help of Point of Departure, it made us also decide our personal and group definitions of success. Then we started to fill the timeline/delivery plan starting from the end to the beginning of the journey. For example: “The presentation will be on Friday on the 5th week, so we need to have finished the presentation script on 5th week’s Tuesday, the presentation itself should be done on 4th week’s Friday…” And this timeline plan went on until the date we were currently on. Once we decided about the timeline plan, we could clearly see which part of the project will be done during the journey and we could smoothly share responsibilities step-by-step. Sometimes, it was challenging to follow all these decided steps since we’re working in a 5-people group; meetings can be postponed many times because of personal issues, any kind of sickness symptoms make you remain distant from your teammates, etc.. But in the end, as long as the trust between group members builded, it’s highly possible to comply with the plan. It’s not a linear journey but the point of arrival should be the same as planned.
Working in groups might be quite difficult especially when it’s your first time knowing each other. Conflicts may occur, self-confidence of group members may decrease. During our journey, we experienced that the best way to avoid these kinds of possible problems are to be open-minded, to be honest and to care for each other’s space (which is usually provided by a leader). One learning for us is that roles aren’t always necessary but could probably be helpful in other groups. All groups aren’t the same and you probably won’t work in the same way in the different groups, so we think it’s important to stay open minded and have good communication. Secondly, we decided to criticize every idea in a constructive way, not to take any review personally but as a part of the teamwork, and to be sure if everyone’s voice was being heard. As far as you build your team’s trust on these features, team success and happiness come automatically. Remember, the most efficient and contributive moment of us as team members is when we feel safe and happy in the group.
This was what we basically tried to build before we started the project. And moreover, we decided that creating the outcome all together is more important than the outcome’s quality. We wanted to have the best environment to learn and decided this was a good way to go. In real life experiences, where leaders set the tone in the team it can happen that the team members don’t feel included in the work even though the outcome is successful. As a result, the success wouldn’t be sustainable. We always approached the project in this way and it helped us a lot to create the team spirit and this approach will be always in our head in our following projects and work life.
To wrap it up, we hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into our experiences and learnings! For us, this is just the beginning and we are eager to get on to the next project to continue building on where we left off. This was our opportunity not only to share but also further reflect on what we have experienced and will now give the space to someone else from our class, to introduce a new topic! Happy further reading!