Orientation and group dynamics with a side of ketchup

Aug 30 2013


Reese News Lab staffers pitch a product called "metchup" during an orientation activity. From left: Caitlin Kleiboer, Chris McGough, L.A. Blake and Simone Duval.

Reese News Lab staffers pitch a product called “metchup” during an orientation activity. From left: Caitlin Kleiboer, Chris McGough, L.A. Blake and Simone Duval. Photo: Sara Peach

The first day back at the Reese News Lab, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After a very successful summer, when I explored the viability of a news translation service called NewsLing, descending from the highest feats of our achievements to start at square one again seemed … daunting. Very daunting.

There are many more staffers now at the Lab, more schedules to coordinate, more brainstorms to hold, and yet, more ideas to come. What I saw that first morning at the Lab was wonderfully familiar, yet excitingly different. I needn’t have worried as much as I did (as they say– worrying is not preparation). I definitely wasn’t prepared for what I would encounter at the beginning of this fall semester.

The rules of the game were the same – create a product that is feasible (physically possible to create), viable (has a business strategy behind it), and desirable (it fulfills some sort of need). But the faces at the Reese News Lab orientation were different, and the concepts and conjectures and questions were not what I expected, in the best way possible.

We got in groups that first day for an activity. We were given a box of random supplies and objects, and told to come up with a product that we could sell in two minutes. There was everything possible: from invisible sleeping bags to protect their users from bear attacks, to stealthy document-destroying kit systems, to our group’s “Metchup” product, the perfect solution for obtaining the exact ratio of ketchup to mustard for all your dining needs.

Throughout the process, it was really fascinating to take a step back and observe the members of my group and the other staffers. I could tell immediately who worked well together, who didn’t, who fit more of a diplomatic role in getting all sides to agree, and who was a fearless leader type who went ahead with some crazy idea.

I hadn’t noticed these role dynamics right off the bat this past summer, which was my first experience at the Reese News Lab. But my prior experience at the Lab has really hammered home the merits of observation (not only through user-testing, of course) and listening in order to really pick up on things you wouldn’t expect.

Our group started out with a concept for a rocket-propelled floating chair. Just listening to one of the other ideas in our discussion radically pulled the concept in a different direction. And man, am I ever glad it did. The “Metchup” concept was conceived, and I realized who exactly in my group was a leader, a supporter, and what I would call a “caboose” person – the one to make sure all loose ends have been tied up before moving ahead.

All those roles are integral to having a successful and happy team. Though the roles have been shaken up a bit from what I and other summer staffers have been used to, I’m excited to see what kinds of milestones we achieve with a new, more explicitly defined team structure. It took us a while to figure out those roles last time, and I’m looking forward to eliminating a lot of headaches and run-around communication with clearly delineated team roles.

I’m also just simply looking forward to the crazy times coming up — the ridiculous ideas, out-of-the-box strategies, and unique perspectives that this diverse group of people will bring to the table this fall. Here’s to you, Reese News Lab — may the concepts be ever the more crazier!


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