Midweek Musing: Grad School Learning Part One

This May, I participated in a GradSchool professional and personal development course, run by the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Academic Development. In a series of four midweek musings, I reflect on some of the things I learned those three days.

Part One: Teamwork. 

To finish the GradSchool, each of the five tutor groups were invited to present a sort of drama celebrating something they appreciated or learned over the course. Our group stood up with these v-shaped plastic 'tubes' and a marble each and proceeded to talk over the top of one another with ideas about how to approach the task. Gradually, we put the marbles aside and began to talk one at a time and listen, to finally successfully pass the marble down the tubes to one another. Yay!

The marble challenge had been the one group activity on the second day that had us competing against the other groups. Before lunch, we had been over in Holyrood Park beneath Arthur's Seat facing various challenges together, from blindfolded organising ourselves along a rope into a perfect square, to herding blindfolded 'sheep' into a pen using only a whistle, and swapping atomic material from one container to another with all sorts of physical restraints, including not being allowed to speak to one another. Next week, I will explore more about my own role in some of those challenges, and what I learned about myself as a leader.

This week, I want to focus on the team.

After many of these challenges, we reflected on our propensity to talk all at once, over the top of each other. Generally, however, we were finding ways to either work with that, or to pause, and listen to one person at a time. I found myself a little surprised when the rest of the group were describing their feeling that we were succeeding, doing well as a team. The process never once felt like anything other than chaotic to me, and I felt like we were failing because of that.

I found myself reflecting, however, and deciding that, especially given we were a team for three days only, actually we did do well to identify our 'weakness' or area for growth, and work with it, seeking ways to tweak and improve with each new challenge.

Team work was one of the major goals the course leaders had identified for our development over those three days. I went in thinking I know how to work in a team, I've been doing it forever, I work best when collaborating, is this going to end up being a waste of time? I saw again or perhaps for the first time three features of team work I want to remember.


To be able to name honestly our experience of others, in conversation with them, is an incredibly hard thing to do. How else will anyone who has a desire to grow do so, if they are not helped to see the areas in which there is potential for growth?
Being honest with others, naming for them the things about their behaviour you have found helpful, and what has been less so, creates a particular kind of bond between you. This is an investment in another that says you are important enough for me to risk hurting you, embarrassing me, and us both being uncomfortable.
That bond means that in the pressure of time-constrained and stressful challenges, you can rely on each other, knowing you are seen as important and valued in this team.


Naming with others the areas in which we seek to grow is counter-cultural. We are so programmed to present this image of having it all together, that to acknowledge we might still have something to learn is a potential losing of face.
My experience of doing this, and receiving others' vulnerable sharing, was that we then actively sought out opportunities for each other in the various challenges to do that growing. We supported each other to make small courageous steps into the stretching space beyond our comfort zone, and shared in each others' successes as a team.


I will give a whole blog post to the role of play in our learning, but when it comes to team work, the laughter and fun we had together wove more strands of connection between us, so that we were not only sharing with regard to our professional lives, but our personal interests and frustrations.
The team that plays / laughs together, that finds they enjoy one another's company, grows in appreciation for each other, and becomes a strong team indeed.

And do you know, we won that marble challenge after lunch on day two, chaotic planning and all.

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