Arithmetic is the Key to Teamwork

​​If you grew up in American schools, you are probably familiar with math facts. For those of you from Ukraine, it’s a list of 100 equations in addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions. In our classes we use this “math facts” exercise to test the skill of elementary students by testing how fast and accurate they can finish the 100 equations. When I was in the fourth grade, I beat my teacher in this exercise I think my best score was 48 seconds for 100 questions.  My whole life I have been the top of any class which involves numbers. Little did I know, my math skills would pay dividends in the future, and make me a better leader. Like any great math equation, teams are built with different variables and characters, and a leaders worth is gauged by how they are able to use these variable to create the desired outcome.

Recently, I was able to be a part of a team which organized a conference aimed at mobilizing active participation. Initially, the thought of collecting over 40 volunteers and 20 Ukrainian experts made me cringe. I was also intimidated because this was the first time I would be stepping into a leadership role in front of my peers. Surprisingly, it reminded me of being on the football field in college. Instead of leading a team into a sporting event, I was leading a group of professionals though the highest level of information gathering offered in a Peace Corps setting, a pretty cool opportunity for growth.

What were the variables at play? I do not want to overplay the metaphor, but we were fortunate enough to have a huge number of positive integers which counteracted any negative integers throughout the conference. Our team’s attitude was my favorite positive integer. It is always interesting seeing the different dynamics amongst group members, there are always instances of friction. However, it is the leaders task to bracket these mini situations and move them to increase the effectiveness of the overall set.

Whether you are still tracking or not, I want you to equate equation A: (1+2+3*4-6). Now, compare it to the results of equation B: (-6*4+3+2+1).  When calculating remember the rule of thumb: Please (parenthesis) Excuse (exponents) My (multiplication) Dear (division) Aunt (Subtraction) Sally (Subtraction). There should be no doubt that equation A is greater. However, the important points are, these equations are no different than a leader’s purpose to arrange variables into their appropriate places, and the fact remains (if you followed instructions), the way I placed the variables in this document controlled your mind’s perception of the outcome of both.

The point of this is not to be cold and treat all people and objects or variables in some egotistical game. It is actually the opposite. Looking back on the story from childhood, all we envisioned was me beating my teacher at an activity. We did not examine the years of training it took to actually understand what each variable and exponent means. An important point for any leader who underestimates the need to invest their time in intimately understand each variable of their project, most importantly, the people who make it run smoothly.

*These are the thoughts of Richard J. Roman and not those of the Peace Corps or its affiliates.

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