A positive working culture starts with you and me

Ask JC students what their most dreaded subject is and many of them will answer, “project work”, in a zombie voice and with their shoulders all slumped over. Unless you were born into this world grinning and all ready to take a selfie in your birthday suit (#ootd), if not, social skills did not come to you naturally. Social skills have to be learnt and for many of us, we have not quite mastered them yet.

So today we have with us Penny, from The Big Bang Theory, who will give you a few tips to help you function better in your project group and to get things done at the end of the day.

big bang theory

Basecamp: So Penny, welcome!

Penny: Hi! Hi! Wow I look absolutely ah-mazing in that photo. So badass. Anyway, thanks for knowing that what I lack in IQ, I more than make up for in terms of EQ. I am so touched. It’s just that all my life, I have been told this and that and I… (sob) I.. (sob)… I feel so vali— what’s that word?—  Oh yes, validated. I am so-

Basecamp: Cut to the chase!

Penny: Ok, ok, jeez, there is no need to be so uptight! So here you go, a few tips to help you with your project work…

#1 Set expectations from the start


Does everyone want an A? Even at the expense of your team dynamics? Set goals as a team. If you are the only one who wants to create the perfect report when everyone else is okay with an 80% report, then work out your differences nicely. Learn to give in at times. By making it clear that “we are all in this together”, your team members are much more likely to think of you as someone to cooperate with.

#2 Embrace diversity

Most people do not set out to be free-loaders. From the start, find out everyone’s working style. Do some people work better under pressure? Are some people better at Powerpoint slides and less capable at report writing? Delegate the tasks accordingly. When people get to do something they are good at and which they like, they are more likely to be involved.

#3 Hate the sin, but love the sinner

Sometimes we don’t get to choose our project mates. Or sometimes, you thought you chose the best group mates ever, aka your best friends, only to find that good friends do not necessarily make good group mates. At times like this, do not go on an accusation spree. Do not attack this person personally. Do not bitch about that person behind his or her back.  Doing so will only shatter the dynamics of the team and make the working environment very, very toxic.

#4 Look inward

Why is it that all your team members hate you? Are you the only righteous (wo)man in an erring world? Sometimes, it may be that your working style is too oppressive for everyone’s liking. Sometimes, it is okay to let your hair down and have a little fun. Be humble, be receptive to feedback, even if you feel that you are the only one working for the greater good.

#5 Be nice

Give people the benefit of doubt; some people really have more on their plates than you realise. Ask them, “I see that you have not wrote anything on Google docs. Is it because you are very busy recently? Do you need help?” If that person is not free-loading on purpose, they would be really thankful for your offer to help.

#6 Offer feedback constructively

feedback sandwich

In spite of all the tips in front, sometimes we have no choice but to stand our ground and raise our objections. This is where the feedback sandwich comes in. Say something along the lines of one positive thing about that person, one area for improvement and end off with another positive thing.

It can go like this, “Ah Ming, thanks for bringing so much joy to the team. I think without all your jokes, this team will be really lifeless. But right now, we are quite tied for time, maybe we should focus on the research at hand first? I think if you can bring your vibrancy and creativity to researching this topic, we can come up with a really unique report. “

#7 Be nice (again)

Don’t see your project group mates as only a stepping stone to your A. They are human beings who have feelings too and are capable of trust and honour. If you don’t like people bossing you around, then don’t boss your project mates around. If you do not like people talking behind your back, then do not gossip behind your project mate’s back. When you do that, they will start viewing you as an honourable and kind person. And no one takes advantage of Mother Teresa, do they?

Best-selling author Stephen Covey, the one who introduced us to the Eisenhower decision making matrix, used the term “emotional bank account”. Every time you do something nice for someone, you are depositing into your relationship bank account. Every time the other person feels like he/she is doing you a favour, you are withdrawing from the bank account. So when your bank account is brimming with credits because you have been extra nice to your group mates, getting them to finish their part of the report on time would not be a problem. 

Penny: So there you go, I think that’s about it.

Basecamp: Not bad, Penny, I am impressed.

Penny: Oh yes, that reminds me, I have one more point.

#8 Give credit where it is due

Everyone likes to be (uh, what’s that word?... oh yes) validated. If your project mate spent one entire night creating a Powerpoint slide, then tell him/her that you really appreciate it. A positive working culture starts with you and me.