The Main Skills I Acquired During My Time Volunteering
One of my weaknesses is working and collaborating in teams when working on various projects and/or assignments. In the past, there have been times, whether in school or on the job, where I have not collaborated with my team members as much when working on a project. Throughout the years, I have learned that being a strong team player is essential when it comes to academic or career success. I had not done a lot of volunteering activities that required me to work with others to achieve goals. To challenge myself, I spend a day volunteering at the Alta Vicente Reserve with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. There, I worked in teams to remove invasive weeds that deteriorate essential wildlife habitat without destroying any drought tolerant plants that were also surrounding the area (that would cause plant loss). Doing this activity not only made me think about how I could collaborate better with others, but also implemented my decision making and leadership skills. Collaboration, decision making, and leadership skills are all vital skills that I used during my time volunteering.
Collaboration & Conflict
As mentioned above, being a strong team player is one of the most important skills needed for future success. Working in a team, which typically consists of a small amount of people, requires people to stay committed to a purpose and set objectives for how a project will be completed. The good thing about this volunteer project was that the teams were smaller than what I have experienced in the past, so it was better for us to concentrate on what we wanted to accomplish, which was removing invasive weeds. Each team member brought their own skill set, abilities, and knowledge to approaching how we would work together. We were all committed to the same purpose, which was to spend a day removing the weeds without destroying any drought tolerant plants that were also located in the same area. Our end goal was to have all the weeds removed by the end of the day, which was later reached due to our strong communication approaches that we used and an equal amount of participation.
Our team was formed by directive actions at the start of the day after everyone participating in the program had a short meeting (forming). We then introduced ourselves in a positive manner. After that, my team members and I focused on our main goals and discussed how we were going to remove the weeds (storming). Some team members wanted to use shovels to remove the weeds, while others wanted to just use their hands in order to avoid getting hurt with shoveling for safety purposes. After a while, we got used to working as a team and came up with solutions to what could happen if we dealt with problems along the way (norming). One of those solutions was to plant it back in the ground as if it had not been destroyed. Over time trust and reliance were built as we worked together throughout the day and no longer needed the oversight of the event coordinator (performing).
Finally, as the project ended, the team disbanded (adjourning). Although I felt as if I was collaborating well with my team during the day for the most part, there was one time where I reverted back to old self and did not participate as much. The event coordinator encouraged us at the beginning of the day to ask questions. However, asking for help has always been a huge weakness of mine, especially if I had not done well on something in school or on the job. There was one part of the day where I decided to not ask questions because I did not want my question to be considered ignorant by anyone, whether it was the event coordinator or my team members. This is an example of impression management, which gets in the way of psychological safety. I wanted to make a good impression for my team members. When I finally came up with a question to ask on whether or not we should kill the plant, the event coordinator said that she was glad that I asked. She helped me build psychological safety with my team members because of her strong coaching and support, along with participation encouragement. There were times when conflict occurred during the day and it was puzzling sometimes to go through get through conflict because we also had to be careful and not remove any native plants that were nearby the weeds. It happened several times when we were working together. For example, one individual on our team accidentally destroyed a native plant. The event coordinator told us to be careful with what we dig up. It caused frustration with our team and we had to try and plant the native plant back into the group before it was too late. I stood up for my team by using a collaborating conflict style and said that we needed to listen very carefully to one another and respect each other when working on this project. All the other team members took my advice seriously, especially since we were a small team.
When it comes to my future career, there will be times that I will have to deal with conflict and collaborating with others will not always go as smooth as planned. In the lessons that I learned from the day, I need to be aware of my strongest conflict style, so I can deal with these kinds of situations better. However, my conflict style may change from time to time, depending on the project and who I am working with. I will also look for ways to build psychological safety with my colleagues before going forward with a short-term or long-term project by encouraging participation and supporting their choices on the project because I know it will be beneficial for the team in the long run to make sure we are on the right track when it comes to completing a project.
What Makes a Leader?
Leadership skills also had a strong use during this project because it required people to step forward and be leaders, not followers, at different points during the day. Leadership has been one of my stronger skills due to other volunteering experiences that I have had in the past. Some of the skills for emotional intelligence, the main factor in determining what makes a strong leader, were used at varying parts throughout the day on my team. The two main elements that were constantly used were self-awareness and empathy. Some of the strengths that I was aware of prior to this project are being reliable, showing courage, and being nurturing and kind. Going into the project, I had high self-confidence and brought my self-depreciating sense of humor with me in order to loosen people up when things got serious during the day. However, I wanted to focus more on improving one of my biggest weaknesses while at the same time showing others my strengths. By using a deficit-based approach, where weaknesses are my greatest opportunity for further development, I became self-aware of myself that I could use my leadership skills are overcome my weakness as a team player.
In order to continue working on my challenges, I had to make use of both my enablers (another term for strengths) and blockers (another term for weaknesses) in personal, relational, and situational ways. An example would be in a situational way where I am able to solve complex problems fast (enabler), yet at the same time I can have trouble asking questions when I am not always clear (blocker). As I met and worked with others throughout the day, I introduced myself as if I were at a networking event. There were other groups there volunteering, especially UCLA because some students were volunteering their time. One individual on my team asked what I was doing and I explained to her that I was an MSHR student at Pepperdine and decided to come out to meet people and improve my skills. This is an example of branding, which is a marketing practice of creating a persona that identifies and makes me stand out from others.
On the other hand, she told me that she had just graduated from UC Santa Barbara and was now working at UCLA. Meeting several people at the event was a good way to share with others my story (so far) and let them know where I want to go in the future. Empathy, which is the ability to understand others’ feelings and skill in treating people based on their various emotional reactions, was another skill that came up several times throughout the day. Out of all the skill of emotional intelligence, it is skill that most people are familiar with. Empathy requires an individual to think about the thoughts and feelings of others (such as employees) while making smart choices. As a team, we all needed to think about others’ thoughts and feelings while at the same time making the right choices. One individual on my team shared how he drove all the way from Arizona just to come participate for the event. He was tired, yet felt energized to do the hard work that would be involved with the event. I felt proud of him for driving all the way out to California, yet I felt bad because he did not get enough rest because he spent several hours driving. The event coordinator who led the meeting at the beginning of the day also said that if we were pulling out the drought resistant plants, she would feel sad because it causes plant loss to the land. During the day, as several other teams were constantly pulling out plants that were not supposed to be pulled out of the ground, she was feeling frustrated because she had to get all the teams together to show what we could and could not pull out of the ground. I felt so bad for her every time she had to have a full team meeting, which happened throughout the day multiple times. As my team and I worked together, especially during the rougher parts of the day, I told my team that we needed to actively listen to each other in order for us to be successful as a team during the day. We needed to actually spend time to focus and listen to one another while at the same time observing their non-verbal cues. This also meant that we needed to ask broad questions without prejudice, judgments, and/or assumptions to order to complete the project successfully. I could sense when others were getting frustrated while pulling weeds out while at the same time others felt accomplished when the weed was pulled out.
Active listening can help us read the language of others while at the same time it increases our empathetic skills. In the future, I plan to continue expanding my leadership skills by taking on more active roles in projects and even stepping up to a team so I can prove to others that I have my own opinion. In order for me to be successful in my career, I need to know what my strengths are and I could make use of that by using a strength-based approach, which is concept where the foundation upon my strengths is the greatest opportunity for development, as opposed to a deficit-based approach.
Knowing my strengths and weaknesses will help me decide where I want to go in my future career. Also, this opportunity was a good way to network with others and practice building on my personal brand. I plan on using the same approach for meeting these people when I continue to attend professional networking events, whether it is through the Pepperdine Career Center or elsewhere. I also would like to continue taking others’ thoughts and feelings when it comes to decision making in the workplace because everyone has their own opinion and those opinions should be valued in the workplace.
Decision making was another main aspect of the day spent working at the Alta Vicente Reserve. I made decisions that ranged from, “Who do I work with best?” or “Is this the right kind of plant that I should be pulling out to avoid plant loss?” When it came to deciding who I wanted to work with, I went with my intuition, based on what I was experiencing already and it seemed like that I would get along with these people, despite the fact that we got into several conflicts during the day. However, when it came to removing the invasive weeds with my team, we used our rational thought, which is based on information, analysis, and logic. Since we had a team meeting earlier before we started working, we thought rationally about what would work and what would not work based on what we learned from the meeting. Something people tend to do, especially when working together in teams, is really think about what they are doing because they do not always know if this is the right choice or not.
Cognitive biases, which are inaccuracies that impair an individual’s judgment in a wide variety of situations when it comes to decision making, were seen quite a bit throughout the day. When it came to pulling out invasive weeds, we used the confirmation bias (which is the inclination that focuses on information confirming any views that already existed in our minds) to determine if it was a right choice or not since none of us wanted to upset the event coordinator already. When it came to the tools that we should use to remove any invasive weeds, we used the anchoring bias (having a heavy reliance on the first piece of information that we were told) and decided to use our hands to remove them. However, there were some plants that were impossible to remove with our hands so we had to think strategically of other ways that could be used and that we could use a shovel under the condition that we would be careful and not hurt anyone. It was easy for me and my team members to focus on our thoughts and conversations because we used the six thinking hats to make the correct decisions.
First of all, by using the blue hat (for process), we knew the process would not always be easy and we came up with creative ways on how we would tackle pulling out invasive weeds and planning for the action. The white fact (for facts) was used after our initial meeting with everyone who came out to volunteer that day and we had already learned the information about what we could and could not pull out. If we did not know, we were strongly encouraged to keep reporting back to the event coordinator to make sure. The red hat (for feelings) was used in terms of my team’s emotions every time we killed an invasive weed. For the most part, we felt accomplished about what we were doing. The black hat (for cautions) and green hat (for creativity) tied in because we did experience several difficulties when working together, including pulling out a drought tolerant plant, and then later got creative by think about issues to avoid the cautions again for the rest of the day.
Lastly, the yellow hat (for benefits) made us all think about why we were doing this activity and that was because we each individual, including myself, cared about the environment and wanted to find ways to better it. By using all these hats, we became a stronger team in the end.
In the future, I plan to make decisions more effectively by interpreting what I have experienced previously prior to decisions being made. For the rest of my time as a MSHR student at Pepperdine, I want to be able to think about how I am going to make the correct decisions when working in group projects. Participating in team building activities has encouraged me that I cannot be the only one making decisions all the time and everyone else’s decisions are important. When it comes to bigger decisions in the future, which include the career that I want and place that I want to live, I will make sure to use the six thinking hats as mentioned above and think about the process, facts, feelings, creativity, benefits, and cautions because they are all huge factors in decision making. However, some, if not all, cognitive biases are used when thinking about decisions that I make in the future too because sometimes I may interpret what we have heard previously incorrectly and factor into my decision making.
Overall, I made a huge difference in working in teams by doing the first option. Taking part in this project at the Alta Vicente Reserve really encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone by using my conflict resolution, decision making, and leadership skills. All of these skills will be beneficial when it comes to the workplace and my dream job. I was also able to get a good grip of practicing my marketing and branding skills so I can use the same skills when I attend networking events. In the future, I will be able to work better in teams because I know which skills I need to bring to the table to in order for a team to succeed. When rough patches happen in team projects in the workplace, I will now utilize these skills and show other people that there are solutions out there and problems can get resolved.
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