This is a piece I drafted three years ago when I was teaching in the communications school at Ithaca College.
A Hidden Dragon walks into my office in the second to last week of class. “Hidden Dragon” is a term I came up with to describe a team member who is smart and talented but soft-spoken. An unfortunate consequence of being a smart, soft-spoken teammate is that their ideas rarely get implemented. It’s a pattern that I’ve seen year after year of teaching. That’s why I had to name it.
All semester long this Hidden Dragon has been working on a team with two other guys. Their work has been average. Yesterday I handed back grades for a big project and their team got a low score.
ME: Have a seat. I know why you’re here. It’s about your team’s last project. Here’s the thing that I’ve learned about group work and I know this may sound a little weird. Whether your teammates help out or not, it’s still your name on the work. So do good work even when you know you’ve got passengers riding on your coattails.
HD: Yeah. It’s been hard. I’ve had a hard time speaking up and being heard on this team. They don’t want to work together in class. And scheduling meetings outside of class with these guys is nearly impossible.
ME: I get it. So I encourage you to own the next project. Treat the project as your own. And be sure to keep me in the loop. If your teammates aren’t participating, find other ways for them to contribute. Ask them to buy the team dinner or get the team coffee. Anything that helps the team even if it’s not directly related to the creative work.
HD: Thank you. This makes me feel better. [pause] So, can I talk to you about our final project?
HD: Well, the team chose “ginger ale” as the subject for our final campaign (she winces). But I’ve been thinking about what you said in class last week, “Choose something that you’re passionate about.” So I’m gonna do a campaign for “GIRLS WHO CODE.” She goes on to tell me that she applied and was accepted into the GWC program in NYC for the summer. Her family is in Jamaica, Queens so she’s all set!
Wow. I just witnessed a transformation right here in my office–a student who felt unheard and unseen by her team members to one who steps up and owns the project. All she needed was to be seen and heard by someone and then she was on her way!