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October 21, 2021

Did you know that recent research suggests the best teams are made up of both optimists and pessimists? Are you strategic in placing students together for team projects? Using tools in Y4Y’s STEAM and Project-Based Learning courses, and a strengths-based approach, consider how you can be intentional in your team building for the best creative outcomes, and how these lessons can also inform staffing.

Let’s start by identifying the strengths of both optimists and pessimists.

What can “optimists” bring to the table?

  • Broader acceptance of information
  • Flexible thinking
  • Enthusiasm
  • Relationship building
  • Strategies for dealing with unnecessary negativity
  • Energy
  • A strength-based lens

What can “pessimists” bring to the table?

  • Persistent pursuit of details
  • Critical thinking
  • Caution and planning
  • Realism
  • Strategies for dealing with disappointment
  • Delight over small victories (even if it’s because they’re unexpected)
  • Stress management

If you’re a frontline worker or site coordinator, you might be thinking about students in each of these categories. If you’re a program director (and again, site coordinator), you might be thinking about staff. To begin with, don’t worry that you might have labeled someone in your head as a pessimist. Instead, celebrate the strengths of that person, like the ones listed above, and keep those strengths in mind as you’re team building.

Building Those Teams

The research cited above says that when you group only optimists together, you might get amazing, big ideas, with very little thought as to how those ideas might carry challenges. Even if some of your optimists envision challenges, they may not voice them in an effort to always be positive and supportive of their team. By the same token, a team made of up of only pessimists can stifle each other. They may be less likely to have big, imaginative ideas to begin with, but even when or if they have them, they’ll be less confident about voicing them, for fear that their fellow pessimists will only poke holes in them. This is the basis for the theory that with some big-thinking optimists, balanced with some challenge-minded pessimists, the best outcomes can result.

Depending on how deep you are in recovery mode, ambitious design thinking STEAM projects or months-long civic problem-based undertakings might not be on your radar. But that doesn’t mean you’re not finding ways to group students for cooperative activities in your catch-up efforts. Today and going forward, you can think about how to group students (and staff) to allow for the most balanced groups (or teams) and the best outcomes. Grab tips from Y4Y’s

  • Ice Breaker Activities list to better understand each student or staff member’s perspective on the world. A rousing game of “this or that” could do it!
  • Selecting Student Roles for Group Work tool to reflect on how different personalities work best in different roles that need fulfilling. Brainstorm about what those roles might be for any given project or activity, and adapt this tool accordingly.
  • Team-Building Activities list for ideas on how you can use a low-stakes environment to help a new grouping of students or staff find their collective rhythm.
  • Group Discussion Guidelines to ensure that these conflicting approaches keep conversations respectful.
  • Working With Groups Training Starter to train staff on navigating group dynamics.

Opposites attract. Yin and Yang. The good with the bad. Offense and defense. Language is rich with expressions that illustrate exactly what these researchers have discovered: We shouldn’t isolate ourselves from people who think differently from us if we’re to ensure balance and best outcomes. What a great message to send young people during an era of great division. After all, there is no “I” in TEAM.