A team for the ages

Two afternoons a week I become a kid again, as a volunteer advisor for a small but dynamic team of fourth and fifth graders in a YMCA after-school program at William L. Cobb Elementary School in San Francisco. We’re the Newspaper Club.

Besides giving me a chance to work with some great kids, it’s teaching me a lot about the nature of social media team dynamics.

This isn’t baby-sitting. Trying to publish our school newspaper by Thanksgiving is challenging for many reasons. Here are just a few:

  1. Only one of the kids–an Asian boy–comes for every session. Even our Editor In Chief misses one now and then. They might love being in the group, but something more immediately appealing tends to come up.
  2. For preteens, every day lasts a lifetime. So their interests, energy and capabilities change completely between sessions. They lose interest or a train of thought between sessions–often even between thoughts.
  3. Half the students don’t even stay for the full 40 minutes. Yesterday one “reporter” was just getting started, finally writing an article, when her mother came to take her home; another left 15 minutes later.
  4. Every kid has a different reason to be there. A couple of them are excited to see their names on a published piece. One student who’s too smart and capable to succeed in a normal school environment loves exploring her leadership potential. Another girl will pout and drag her feet whenever her best friend isn’t there.
  5. The overworked classroom computers don’t always work. They may be missing Word, or turn off and on for no reason, or spring other technical difficulties on us. And it isn’t unusual for an article to just vanish, so reporters often have to start over from scratch.
  6. As their advisor or leader, whatever doesn’t get finished is my responsibility to fix, complete or recreate. My authority is based completely on my ability to help the kids when they need it. Achieving anything else–preparing students to become better readers and writers, more confident and able leaders, etc.–is a wonderful goal that I don’t realistically have the time or resources to meet.

That’s life in an after-school program for inner city kids. And it’s how life is shaping up for professionals, managers or workers in the social media age.

I’m determined to make this brief, unruly and lively experience pay off for these extraordinary youngsters. Whatever team, group or company you happen to be a part of, expect to face similar challenges and reap similar rewards.

Everyone you work with, or who buys your products/services, expects their experience to be personal, temporary and tactically rewarding. My newspaper club is an extreme example of future enterprises, and very close to what you’ll be part of in the near future. Maybe even tomorrow.

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