In my three years of involvement with the EWB-USA University of Florida Chapter, I have seen the value in several team-building strategies employed by our Bolivia project team. I’ve learned that an EWB-USA project must have a foundation built on strong leadership and dedicated team members to partner effectively with communities. This can be challenging to achieve in a student-run team where graduation attrition can leave a team lacking in resources and manpower.
Our chapter uses these three operational strategies to ensure our project’s success:
Form intentional project teams
We invest time and energy into choosing specific people for a project team. To ensure our team members are committed, we ask that they go through an application and interview process each fall. We accept enough members to replace those who have graduated, keeping the team to around 20 students total.
During the application process, we look for people with specific skills sets, including Spanish speakers, Bolivian students, civil or environmental engineering majors and individuals with fundraising experience. We also consider class year and graduation dates. Each incoming group includes at least one freshman who can move the project forward when other team members graduate. This selection process requires more work upfront, but it sets the project team up for success for years to come.
Create a team structure
Internally, we structure our project team with a team lead, sub-teams and professional mentors. The team lead manages the three sub-team leads, travel team, recruiting process, budget and relations with university faculty. The sub-teams focus on design, communications and fundraising. The design lead is responsible for all EWB-USA project documentation and design research. The communications lead organizes trip logistics and correspondence with our community and in-country project partners. The fundraising lead organizes grant writing and donor outreach efforts. Our professional mentors provide guidance for each sub-team throughout the project process.
Breaking up project tasks into specialized responsibilities and teams helps our entire project stay on track. However, it’s also important that the sub-teams remain fluid. It’s all hands on deck when a deadline approaches, and everyone pitches in where there’s a need. As a result, we are never short-handed and our members learn about all aspects of the project.
Invest in strong leadership
Lastly, our team is proactive in organizing leadership succession. Continuity of knowledge is crucial to long-term project success, especially with student-run teams where there can be a lot of turnover. We encourage sophomores and juniors to step into leadership positions. By having younger leaders, we can ensure their experience stays with the team to benefit the next year’s leadership.
It has been amazing to see how these three approaches have strengthened both our chapter and our community partnership over the years. While these strategies work for us, I encourage you to be creative in finding the right solutions for your project team’s unique challenges.