Monday, July 27, 2015

College Orientation Lessons

Last week, we had the opportunity to observe / participate in the rite of passage of incoming college freshmen – The College Orientation.  Here was the chance to be introduced to the school (Johnson and Wales), introduced to the city (Providence), introduced to fellow classmates and meet some of the teacher.  For the new students, it is a chance to make the vital connection with the school and new friends.  For the parents, it is a chance to provide some comfort that our children will have a great experience and comfort in their school selection.

After the orientation was over and we were driving back home, while Debbie and Bec snoozed for part of the ride, I had the chance to reflect on the last few days.  It struck me that the school was in the process of building a high performance team.  I began to compare this process with building a project team and the excitement generated at the school versus the lack of excitement in the workplace. My thoughts came out as follows:

Team Selection
The future college student spends the time looking at colleges for fit and educational needs.  We spent the time with our daughters visiting colleges to find out what type of schools they liked so that they could make the biggest decision up to this point in their lives. They applied to the schools they could best see themselves attending.  Even though the college has to accept you, the student makes the final choice (it is about choices).  When Bec came to us and said, “I have made a decision…” and we were happy she made the decision.
Project Managers / Leaders spend the time looking for the people that they think will bring the right skills to the project, providing the best chance for success.  Initial conversations about the project’s resources are at the management level.  Team members have little or no choice in the process.  Many years ago, when I worked 15 minutes from where I lived, I was selected for a project that required driving an hour and 15 minutes each way, every day without reimbursement. “Why did I get selected,” was my thought at the time.
Building the Team
After a quick “hello” session, Bec left us to join the incoming class.  The students were broken into smaller teams (by major), participated in icebreaker activities and various team building exercises.  Next, they did all-team activities to better know each other, building new bonds and creating an atmosphere of excitement.  “I already met people that I will be in class with,” Bec told us.
Project Managers / Leaders after planning out the project and outlining the process have a Kickoff meeting where, in some cases, this is the first time team members hear what the project is about. 
After orientation was over, Bec told us that they learned group cheers and a school cheer (which we saw on a video).  The students put on a talent show for themselves, cheering each other on. The orientation was led primarily by upper classmen who were the excited team leaders.  On the way home, Bec said, “I am looking forward to September and starting school,” which was music to our ears!
Some projects get the honor of someone in senior management sending out an email on the importance of the undertaking.  Depending on the project, a senior manager will make an appearance at the kickoff meeting. If lucky – the project is given a special name.  I like to provide a positive outlook and give a “Go team” at the end of the first couple of meetings. I have been asked, “Why are you always so positive?”
The goal is to graduate in four years; everyone is there for that same reason and wants to maximize their experience.
The goal is to complete the project (on time and on budget); not everyone buys into the goals and reasons for the project and tries to minimize their experience.  “Why do we need to change if everything works well for us,” is often heard.

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