Everything Is (Not Always) AWESOME When You’re Part of a Team!

You have watched The Lego Movie I hope. It is a story about an individual who seems to be happy alone with his own routine as a ‘normal’ person, but one day finds out he is ‘the chosen one’ meant to save people. He does not believe in himself and his ability to be the hero. Nevertheless, he ends up being victorious against evil because of his great team. The movie ends with a song whose refrain summarized its conclusion: “everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team…” Yes, I really appreciate the idea that individuals are social beings and heroes are the result of collective action. I value the emphasis on team work in this movie, but I would like to draw attention also to the hard work that goes into working within a team and as a team.

Getting involved in the Ivanhoe project as part of an interdisciplinary team has made me more aware of the challenges of team work. Working with my Praxis 2014-15 fellows and Scholars’ Lab staff/members on Ivanhoe has taught me several important lessons about being part of a team that I will definitely keep in mind for future reference wherever I go, especially if working on collaborative projects.

First, I have understood that what makes being part of a team totally awesome is people that are genuinely interested in helping you learn and grow as a whole person. My teammates and the Scholars’ Lab staff have been very understanding and flexible during my pregnancy and also with the arrival of my child. They can recognize that researchers are humans and life has to it more than research. They have made me feel supported and also helped me overcome what I would call ‘expert stubbornness’ (not only ‘expert blindness’ as my teammate Jennifer says in her recent blogpost). Expert stubbornness is when you try to do your own deep thinking and hard work to find the answer to a question before asking help from others. I tend to have a lot of this stubbornness, but the rule ‘if you cannot figure out in 5-10 minutes, ask somebody’ has helped me a lot in overcoming this ‘vice’. It made me realize the implicit assumption underlying my behavior: that experts know it all themselves and being an expert means addressing whatever issue without help, alone like a hero. I have learned that time is the most valuable resource and getting help is good for everybody. Thank you Scholars’ Lab for being a safe place where there is no such thing as ‘a stupid question’! You are always there to help us with questions about php, programming and the implementation of our ideas about Ivanhoe. And thank you dear teammates! I would agree with Swati’s recent blogpost: it is awesome to be part of a team that shares responsibility generously for failures and successes.

Second, I have learned how challenging it is to create a common vision for the project, given team members with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. Our discussions about the Praxis 2014-15 charter and the conversations about the conceptualization of Ivanhoe as a gateway to collaborative textual play helped us in this direction. Nevertheless, we still have unresolved conceptual issues regarding what could make Ivanhoe ‘special’. Having no clear resolution on several important conceptual issues, made being part of a team not always awesome, at least for me.

Most importantly, I have realized how challenging it is to make project management a shared responsibility and develop shared leadership within a team. Last semester I supported the vision that management and organization was a common responsibility of the whole team and it would have to emerge from our interactions as team members and human beings. However, when it came to practice, I felt frustrated waiting for such coordination to emerge. It took time to establish good accountability measures for ourselves and each others like delineating simple tasks, specifying deadlines, sending checking-in emails, etc. Grasping the whole purpose of Github and how to use it to facilitate team communication also took time. As a result, last semester we were not able to turn words into deeds and reflect philosophies into practices with a new Ivanhoe info page. This taught me to be more patient and generous with others and myself as work is not always fast and not always without tension in a team of experts.

Working within the 2014-2015 Praxis team last semester, made me understand the importance of learning more about project management and organization in multicultural teams. It is hard, but I think it is one of those things that can make being part of a team and working on a collaborative project pretty awesome. Managing a multicultural team and coordinating members’ actions towards the completion of a collaborative project involves special skills that also need to be taught. We think being a researcher by definition means that we are skilled in data management. However, we forget that our research generally as grad students and scholars is solitary work – the academy tends to evaluate individuals not teams. Furthermore, we may be good at managing data but maybe not so good at managing people.

I started reading about shared leadership in teams – where “the source of leadership influence is distributed among team members rather than concentrated or focused in a single individual” (Carson, Tesluk and Marrone 2007, 1220). Research shows that the development of shared leadership depends on two interrelated factors: “internal team environment, including a shared purpose, social support, and voice, and level of external coaching support.” (Carson et al. 2007, 1218). As I make sense of my team experience to this point, I think that the conditions for developing shared leadership were there. Yes, maybe we needed to develop voice more inside our team, and maybe a crash course in project management at the beginning of Praxis team work could have been useful. However, overall I believe we were able to develop high level of shared leadership. Our roles and responsibilities have changed over time, and it is in teams with high level of shared leadership that you tend to see such shifts and/or rotations in leadership, “in such a way that different members provide leadership at different points in the team’s life cycle and development” (Carson et al. 2007, 1220). As Andrew mentioned in his latest blogpost, our team has truly experienced the iterative nature of any collaborative digital humanities project. It is a challenge to know that it takes time to become a team, and still act as a team within a limited timeframe.

To conclude, it is not always awesome to be part of a team, but it is definitely rewarding. As sociologists Martin Ruef (2010) shows with his book The Entrepreneurial Group, entrepreneurship and innovation are much more successful when they involve collective effort and collaboration in the form of teams. Teamwork is hard but worth committing too. Let’s fight the ideology of individual heroes, geniuses, and lone researchers, but also let’s prepare for the challenges of being part of team. Knowing and learning about how to face those challenges will help keep collaborative projects alive and make working with diverse teams truly awesome.


Carson, Jay B., Paul E. Tesluk, and Jennifer A. Marrone. 2007. “Shared Leadership in Teams: An Investigation of Antecedent Conditions and Performance.” Academy of management Journal 50(5):1217–34.

Ruef, Martin. 2010. The Entrepreneurial Group: Social Identities, Relations, and Collective Action. Princeton University Press.

With Albanian nationality, a major in International Relations and minor in International Economics from the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Turkey, an MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics (LSE) in the UK, an academic Turkish husband, two domestic shorthair US cats and two origin-not-known parakeets, I am on the path…

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