One-Ls at Albany Law, just like those at many other schools, are in the midst of Fall 2014 Orientation. Today, I participated as a “faculty observer” in a collaborative skill building exercise organized by our Associate Dean Alicia Ouellette. Imagine my delight to see copies of Schultz and Zedeck’s 26 lawyering effectiveness factors distributed at each table in the school gym!
Teams of 20-25 students, most of whom had either just met each other or not yet met, were tasked with:
- Assembling a small children’s bike (to be donated to the Boys and Girls Club); the first team to both build the bike and have a team member ride the teeny-tiny bike around the orange cone course set in the gym would be declared winner. :)
- Building the tallest pasta-marshmallow structure
- Making sure every student on the team participated in the endeavor.
Faculty participants were assigned to observe what they saw happen during the group exercise, report their observations to their student team, and explore with the student teams questions such as:
- what worked well?
- what was challenging about mandatory collaboration?
- what might they have done differently to more effectively collaborate?
- what might these exercises suggest about effective lawyering?
The students brought good humor to the task. They brought a range of experiences, including a few with engineering backgrounds and/or “mom/dad” know-how, and a range of abilities. The fact that the bikes were to be REALLY used by local community members was a motivating factor. In fact, students vocally expressed concern about the safety of the quickly assembled bikes noting, “Remember, some kid is going to ride this!” and “It has to be safe.”
By the end of the assigned time period, everyone in my group had participated …. at least a bit. The debriefing was more effective than one might have predicted. One student on my team noted gender differences in approaches – a number of women were reading instructions for assembling the bike while a few of the males started to immediately put pieces of the bike together. This led to a discussion of THE CONFIDENCE GAP. Another student noted the difference between working on a task when you know what the outcome should look like (the bike) and working on a concept without a uniform or agreed upon vision of what the outcome looks like (the highest pasta structure). Many students reflected on the significant importance of communication skills, particularly listening.
Other teams reflected on the challenge of being asked to accomplish a collective task when most members of the team felt inadequately prepared. With faculty guidance, that team explored when that might happen in law school or in practice. Issues such as time management, resource management – one team ran out of tape – and problem solving techniques were also discussed. Students, encouraged by faculty suggestions, also pondered what kind of teams they might participate in their post-graduation future .
As I looked around the tables, I could not help but think of Richard Susskind’s book, Tomorrows Lawyers. These one-Ls will be entering a profession and a world in which working with others, problem solving, creative thinking, and clear communication will be even more critical for those in our profession than in times past. As graduates, these students will be participating in teams and in collaborative enterprises that we faculty probably cannot now envision. However, it is our job to facilitate their acquisition of the kinds of skills and capacities and attitudes that will best serve them in the uncertain but potentially exciting future. Happy New Semester all! Happy Facilitating!