This is the official transcript from the unedited audio recording of Lori McNeill’s “Power Up Your Team for Hackathon Success” NASA Space Apps Challenge Bootcamp Session. Lori is a NASA Space Apps Ambassador and the Founding Director of the Civic Hacker Network and Civic Hacker Summit.
“Hello. Like me, I’m sure you’re excited for the upcoming Space Apps Challenge and hoping for success with your project, however your team defines that goal. I’m glad you’ve come to this virtual boot camp session, Power Up Your Team for Hackathon Success, because we’re going to cover some information that I believe will really help your team excel at tackling whichever challenge you choose to take on. The session invites you to view your hackathon teams’ work through an equity lens. But before we get going, let me introduce myself.
My name is Lori and I’m one of the Space Apps ambassadors this year. I’m the founder of the Civic Hacker Network, a networking and support hub for people creating change in their communities using data and technology. My background is in material science and engineering. I began my career as a research scientist in the Thermal Protection Systems and Materials branch at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Now I work as a data and analytics consultant and any chance I get I work on putting together awesome STEM educational outreach events and experiences for primary and secondary school aged kids.
Space Apps is coming up soon. So by now you probably have already assembled your team and maybe even decided on which challenge you’ll tackle. Maybe you’re an experienced Space Apps participant have already hand-selected your teammates for their different technical or soft skills. Perhaps you reached out on social media or through the Space Apps platform to gather a team from among people you’ve never met before. Either way, in order for your team to be successful at any level, you’ll need to be able to collaborate, brainstorm, plan and execute as a team. One of the most amazing things about space apps is that we see such a diverse array of ideas and approaches to solving problems. This diversity in thinking is key. And means that we need people from a variety of backgrounds and levels of expertise to be welcomed in and to fully participate.
So today, we’re going to talk about powering-up your team or stated differently, increasing your team’s capacity to accomplish amazing things. And how you ask? Well, by increasing your awareness of unhealthy power dynamics, and identifying some behaviors that you can proactively engage in, that will counteract harmful tendencies we all have, thanks to certain social norms.
Let’s get started! To begin, we’re going to examine what we mean by power when it comes to individuals on a team. I’ll talk about why this question of who has power matters. And then we’ll cover a few actions you can take to make sure power is shared between your team members, since sharing power throughout the whole leads to a greater effect than just the sum of its parts. These power sharing strategies are how you effectively power up your hackathon team.
So, what are we talking about when we say power? Power is defined as the ability to act or have influence on others. A lot of time we focus on formal power in our work or educational settings. Formal power is the kind of power a person has based on a job title, or their role in an organization. And what we’re focused on in this session is often called informal power. Informal power refers to the influence people carry based on things like relationships to other powerful people, socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity, personality or experience. And so we can’t talk about power without talking about privilege. That certain rights, advantages, or immunity have been granted to a particular person or groups of people is a fact of life, and provides a basis for power and differences in power. Some privileges are earned, like when my children get screentime, after homework is done, and some are not, such as privileges ome of us have, because we were born into citizenship in our home countries.
We’re going to do a short thought exercise. And I want you to mentally walk through this with me, so I’m gonna slow down. I’d like everyone to just take a moment to think of someone in your life that you view as having power.
Think about that person’s background, where they live, what kinds of demographic labels you can apply to them?
What privileges would you say they’ve had in life?
Now turn your thoughts to yourself. Can you think of a situation in which you knew that you were in a position of power? Where you have the upper hand? Can you think about what privileges you have that might have come into play to create that situation for you?
Now, finally, think about your Space Apps teammates. If you don’t have any yet, think of your colleagues at work or at school. And consider for a moment that one or more of these people might not have the privileges that you just identified as giving you power.
With this in mind, can you think of what you might need to do to share power during your work together on your project?
This may all seem a bit abstract, so let’s apply this lens to some of the concrete steps you will go through as you participate in Space Apps. Differences in power can affect your team every step of the way.
To benefit from all the gifts individuals on your teams bring to the table, be aware of what kinds of assumptions, biases and qualifiers are causing you to over or undervalue input from your teammates. You have the opportunity to pay attention to how you assign roles and responsibilities, share ideas and support each other during intense work periods. Harmful power dynamics can really show themselves in communications. Just think about how you tend to talk to someone you perceive as having the same power as you compared to how you might speak to someone you presume power over or someone you share power with. Now, which way of communicating is more conducive to working together on a project?
It will be very important for your project submission to be a clear and compelling presentation of your work, so you’ll have some decisions to make in your group about what to include in your brief product demo and write up. The different perspectives of your team about what is compelling can provide an opportunity to see things from another valuable point of view, not just a dominant one.
Remember each step, each interaction is an opportunity for your team to do great work as a whole, that’s greater than just the sum of its parts. So here’s some tips to help you avoid some of the pitfalls of unhealthy power dynamics – and power up.
When your team is getting started, whether you’re working with people you know, or new people, please don’t presume to know what any of the individual has to offer. Talk to each other and get to know what skills and talents each person brings by asking them in an open ended way. As you’re having discussions, your team may be very good about giving everyone the space to speak. However, there’s a good chance that someone on the team still won’t feel comfortable speaking out in the group chat, or meeting. Remember, having all of your team’s voices is a “power-up”; you will reach a better result. So then it is worth it to go ahead and also use alternative methods for extracting ideas from everyone. Some examples are smaller breakout groups, or written individual brainstorming sessions that get shared with the group.
A friend of mine, who was a skilled facilitator, gave me this next one: W.A.I.T.
So if you find you’re the person dominating discussions (I’m guilty of this), every now and again, you should check in with yourself and ask, Why Am I Talking? Perhaps taking a breather will help someone else to have the chance to give their perspective. As more of the group’s voices are listened to, the dynamic shifts to shared power, and you’ll get more out of the team.
Finally, no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. In a 48 hour hackathon, people get tired and may tend to fall back on those tendencies that don’t necessarily serve the purpose of equity and inclusion. When we falter in these ways we can correct with kindness by calling people in rather than calling them out. Meaning we’re not here to shame, gossip or otherwise try to take down someone who is mistakenly disrespecting or minimizing a teammate. We’re of course not talking about somebody being intentionally malicious, but we’re talking about someone who may be totally oblivious to how their use of power and privilege is affecting someone else. “Call-ins” invite that person to broaden their perspective, admit a mistake and allow everybody to move on.
Another way to power up is by putting an “I” in team. In this case, the “I” is for inclusion.
As you work in your hackathon team, a goal should be for all members to feel they’re treated with respect and equity. When people are valued and have a sense of belonging, they can do their best work. So remember, your team’s power increases when power is shared. It doesn’t mean there’s no leader or defined roles on the team. It just means that there’s equity in how people treat each other while acting in those roles.
I hope that this information will inspire you to be an awesome teammate, and that you’ll carry it with you beyond the hackathon. Know that you don’t have to continue default behaviors and attitudes that will limit your team’s creativity, productivity and ingenuity.
The prompts I gave you during the reflection earlier in the session were from a conversation template on power and privilege created by Dr. Akilah Cadet of Change Cadet for the Icebreaker.Video platform. They were just tiny pieces of an important conversation that we should all be having. I would like to invite those in the Space Apps community who would like to engage in further discussion on this topic to come share their experiences and participate in the full conversation. So if you’re interested in that you can go to bit.ly/power up after party, the link on your screen, to join in one of the upcoming virtual convos.
So, good luck at Space Apps! Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions at this email address. I’m happy to help you in whatever way I can. See you at Space Apps!”
Transcribed by Otter
Power Up Your Team for Hackathon Success
Space Apps Ambassador and Civic Hacker Network founder created this tutorial for the 2020 NASA Space Apps Challenge Bootcamps. Check out the Civic Hacker Network’s YouTube Channel for this and other helpful videos!