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Jigsaw puzzles

Having studied a science undergraduate degree consisting mostly of many hours of individual study, which was like hunting as a lone wolf; group work was practically non-existent. It was not until this year upon stumbling across Bioscience Enterprise that I had my first proper experience of group work in the university and a taste of being a pack hunter. Throughout the process, it has occurred to me that group work is essentially an attempt at piecing together jigsaw puzzle pieces to form a larger picture. If each individual piece of the jigsaw puzzle was a member of the team, then the finished puzzle was the complete picture.


To build a successful team, team members needed to intercorrelate among themselves in the same way that knobs and holes of jigsaw pieces tessellate.


Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, no two pieces are the exact same, where each piece is unique in its shape, size and/or image. Similarly, no two individuals on the team will have the exact same experience and knowledge. If the knobs of the jigsaw piece represent the strengths of team members, then the holes would represent their weaknesses. In the same way that knobs weaving into the holes of its adjoining neighbours, in a diverse team, the strengths of one can compensate for the weakness of another and vice versa.


We don’t ever see perfectly square shaped jigsaw puzzle pieces; even the corner pieces have at least one knob and hole hooked up with its adjacent pieces. The interlocking of different pieces is what holds the entire puzzle together. Without such an interaction, each jigsaw piece is essentially just functioning on its own.


Gaps don’t exist in jigsaw puzzles because all the pieces are well interlinked. Likewise, the physical placement of each piece of puzzle where every piece is in some way in contact with adjacent pieces reflects the importance of communication, where ideas, thoughts and opinions are exchanged between members. Without proper interaction within the team, we get unfilled holes and overlapping knobs. Similarly, the collaboration of team members is what ensures a well-structured essay as opposed to three pages of ideas presented in unrelated paragraphs.


The nine Belbin Team Roles which was identified by Meredith Belbin (BELBIN, 2017) can be grouped into the three general categories of action-oriented, thought-oriented and people-oriented roles. People-orientated roles such as ‘team workers’ are the communicators, they’re the ‘people’s person’ who help to facilitate an effective and smooth process in completing the task at hand with their ability to resolve conflicts and take on feedback. In contrast, action-oriented members like ‘complete finishers’ are highly analytical and conscientious individuals who like to polish things and ensure that work is done to the highest quality possible. Needless to say, it’s essential that a diverse range of roles are present on each team. With too many ‘team workers’, there may be no one to take a stand against the dominant view to order to avoid confrontation. Alternatively, with too many ‘complete finishers’, the team may become overly focused on small details and weighed down by anxiety. Hence to avoid the bumps and edges, a successful team requires a balance of different attributes and personalities.


Having entered the terrain of group work, I often wondered what type of jigsaw puzzle piece I’m meant to be. While the importance of the common cliché components such as trust, communication, and a vision of the group goal are no doubt essential to maximizing the smooth sailing experience of the journey, I believe the significance of flexibility is just as worthy of mention. Adaptation is key. Being the right fit means developing your strengths and managing your weaknesses in a way that allows you to contribute and collaborate with your team members in the most effective and efficient way. By figuring out where the gaps are in the puzzle, we can morph into the knobs and holes needed to best connect with those around us.






The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect that of Chiasma’s as an organisation.