Chapter 35 Summary

Start by Sitting Together

When Pausch has the opportunity to work with a team, he imagines them sitting down together at a table with a deck of cards. He wants to lay all of his cards on the table, face up, and ask the group what they can do together with the hand he has laid out for them. Working together effectively is a vital skill both at work and in families. Pausch uses his classroom projects to teach his students this life skill.

Teaching his students how to improve their group dynamics has become a kind of obsession for Pausch, and each semester he begins by dividing his classes into four-person groups and then spending time on a handout he developed called “Tips for Working Successfully in a Group.” While many students see the list as being childish and rather beneath them, the more self-aware students heed his advice. His guidelines are fairly simple.

First, meet people properly. Make sure to learn the pronunciation of everyone’s name and exchange contact information. Second, find things in common. Generally it does not take long to find a commonality; from there, it is much easier to handle the inevitable differences of opinion. (If nothing else, everyone has the weather in common.) Next, try to achieve the optimal meeting conditions. Be sure no one is hungry, cold, or tired, and remember food “softens” any meeting.

One of the most difficult guidelines is to let everyone talk. Talking louder and faster does not make an idea any better, and finishing someone else’s sentence limits potential ideas. Fifth, check all egos at the door. Label all ideas as ideas, not by who offered them. Sixth, praise each other. Find something nice to say, even if it is a strain to do so. Finally, phrase alternatives as questions; this allows people to offer comments instead of defending a choice.

As he takes attendance, Pausch tells his classes it is much easier if he calls a group than calling every name on the list. He begins, and the members of each group, scattered around the room, raise their hands. He still has to count and they do not get the point, so he tries it again…and again, until he finally raises his voice and asks why they are all sitting with their friends instead of with their group.

His theatrics usually work, and he steps out of the room, giving them sixty seconds to assemble their groups. When he returns, he reminds them that he is not trying to insult them, but perhaps since they missed one obvious and simple thing, they might benefit from reviewing a few other basics. For the remainder of the semester, his classes always sit with their groups.