Teamwork exists around us. It exists in the obvious places – work, marriage, sports, etc. However, it also exists silently – like keeping a door open when someone behind you is carrying a box, agreeing to wait in a line at a busy café, and so forth. In my experiences as a student and budding professional in engineering, teamwork has both been my greatest friend and obstacle. I do not believe that teamwork can only work perfectly or poorly with nothing in-between. It is always a journey and a learning experience. The great lessons about teamwork typically involve learning communication and adaptability. The greatest lesson is using each opportunity to grow and appreciate moments of teamwork – both the obvious and the silent occasions.

One major experience regarding teamwork at UAB was my engineering capstone during Fall ‘16 and Spring ‘17. It is a two-semester course where the purpose is to receive a proposal, create and budget the design with your randomly assigned team, perform testing, purchase parts, create a prototype, and then present the product. It is appropriately the summation of a student’s engineering experience at UAB. It was also perhaps the first and only time in my life so far where I felt visceral feelings of loathe. This project started with problematic elements – it was already planting seeds of doubt on how the task can be accomplished due to its unwieldy and ambitious scope, before we had even begun. My team started with low morale which continued to plummet as we progressed, sprinkled with feelings of fear that we would ruin our chances at graduating during the final lap of college and irritation that we did not have a compatible group dynamic.

Due to the rocky start and our lack of chemistry, our client would call us at night to rant about us and our failure to meet expectations, we would get on each other for failing to meet the group’s expectations, and… in summation, it was a mess. We were “that group” in our class, the one that got looks of sympathy and schadenfreude alike. However, things worked out – we had a product, passed the classes, and life continued onwards.

Those moments of frustration and abject fear were surprisingly valuable. We learned how to navigate through challenges together. Though we were all very different people with incompatible working habits, this unwieldy project molded us as a team. Instead of our individual voices being an annoyance, they became valuable, insightful. With a diverse team, you will have that frustration of incompatibility – but you will always have one person that will see each situation differently than the rest. And that voice can be invaluable.

In those moments as a team we truly learned and applied our patience, accountability, and adaptability. Strategy, sensitivity, and flexibility became our calling cards overnight due to the tangle of trying to please clients, order parts, and pass the class. There were the normal teamwork actions like trying to schedule our meetings; but then there were the small daily acts of teamwork that typically go unnoticed in our day-to-day living, such as basic consideration, truly dissecting differing opinions without saying “Seriously? This is your A-game? I am going home.”

Through these visible and invisible efforts, our ragtag team worked. Was it the best engineering product I can claim? Absolutely not. Was it a good experience? Well… I still get clammy with residual anxiety talking about my capstone. However, it was an incredible period of growth, adaptability, and patience – lessons that I will carry to my career in the nuclear industry.

Teamwork is not only critical to our success and sanity, even with its bouts of panic, but also our growth. Life is about cooperation, and it is filled with plenty of success as it is failure and fear. I learned to combine my hard skills as an engineer, while also developing soft skills that are not often touched upon in a classroom setting. We do not often work in teams where everyone is very different, but each individual has the same expectations of output that would be detailed in charts and reports. Though our differences were enraging at first, they became invaluable as we continued to work together. I am a firm believer that the greatest lessons about teamwork and ourselves are learned from difficult and challenging times – and UAB has given me moments of fear, success, community, and growth aplenty.