by Kenan Pala
Earlier this year, I found myself needing to assemble a small team for the biggest task I’ve ever taken on. Actually, it was the biggest task in the world. I was aiming to break the Guinness World Record for the largest cardboard box mosaic.
The main goal of the project was to raise awareness of homelessness and hunger in San Diego, so I thought it would be a good idea to use cereal boxes to build the mosaic and donate them to a local shelter afterward.
It didn’t take long to realize that this big project would require a whole lot of time, thought, and organization. There were tons of questions running through my head day and night — and I knew I couldn’t answer them alone. So I formed a small team of individuals who were passionate about the growing problem of homelessness and willing to work hard throughout the course of the project.
Even though I’m only 12 years old, I learned a lot about team-building throughout this process that people older than me could benefit from knowing.
To start, I learned that the true value of team-building is bringing together a variety of unique skill sets. Creating our mosaic and spreading the word about San Diego’s homeless community would require a mosaic of skills: math, fundraising, design, writing, communication, and more. No one person is an expert in all of these things.
One of my classmates is a Girl Scout, and by adding her to the team, we were able to use her connections to partner with the organization for fundraising. Another teammate helped us get connected with Quaker Oats to form a partnership (it provided the 4,000 cereal boxes). Another teammate had excellent design skills, which were invaluable when it came time to determine the mosaic’s layout.
Combined, everyone’s unique skills made it possible for our team to take on the world.
Another important thing to consider when building a team is scheduling. Given that my friends and I are busy kids — and much of the planning would occur over the summer months — it wasn’t easy to find people who were available to hit my intended timeline.
Luckily, however, I was able to find 10 highly skilled friends who were available, and on October 9, we broke the world record for the largest cardboard box mosaic. It ended up being more than 2,200 square feet!
This project taught me what it really takes to build a world-class team. Here are three tips that will help any entrepreneur (or kid) do the same:
1. Make sure everyone knows everyone else’s roles.
I learned how important it is to stay organized in terms of everyone’s responsibilities — not just my own. By making each individual’s tasks clear to everyone, we were able to avoid overlaps in responsibilities, and we could make sure every vital step of the process would be completed.
It’s also important to have a clear backup plan in case something goes wrong. Each person should have a secondary role so if anything does go wrong, someone knows it’s his or her job to step in and take care of the situation.
2. Keep projects moving with a detailed timeline.
Create a big-picture timeline that sets the ultimate goal, and then create weekly timelines that work toward achieving it. This definitely helped us stay organized, especially at the beginning of the project. Looking back, I believe having smaller timelines in addition to our big one was key to our successful outcome.
3. Keep everyone on track with clear communication.
Whether you see your teammates every day or are working with them long-distance, it’s important to communicate often and use technology to your advantage.
Some of our team members had to leave town during the planning process, so we communicated via email and used Google Docs to collaborate. Every weekend, I sent out a weekly update keeping everyone informed of our progress and upcoming dates. We also had weekly team meetings, and, of course, our weekly timelines helped ensure smaller tasks got completed within the bigger picture.
This project taught me many important lessons about organization, scheduling, and team-building that will definitely help me (and hopefully you) in the future.
Breaking the world record was so much fun, but successfully raising awareness about homelessness in my community was the best outcome I could have ever asked for. Since then, I’ve created a non-profit that helps kids and families give back to their communities.
With some careful planning, small teams can accomplish huge things!
Kenan Pala is a guitarist, triathlete, trumpeter, traveler, poet, and martial arts enthusiast. At 12 years old, he’s juggling his education and his passions for music, entrepreneurship, and staying active; he enjoys going on business trips with his mother and exploring historic cities. Triathletes, as well as his entrepreneurial parents, inspire Kenan.