By any definition, Alex Berry is a team player. Part of the group that brought a large grant in for ETD’s development in 2016, his expertise in collaborative problem-solving left its mark on the initiative from its earliest days. From his involvement with student government to his dozens of mentees within and outside of his home in the School of Industrial Systems and Engineering, Alex’s enthusiasm for working with others to make things happen has left the 2017 graduate with a robust legacy that he continues as the president of the Portland Georgia Tech Alumni Network.
While Alex’s outgoing personality certainly hasn’t hampered his academic and professional development, he credits his successes in teamwork more to specific skills he developed than to being naturally extroverted. Alex began working with ETD after a semester of running 4-5 teams at a time for various project-based classes. He wondered why some teams were strong, while other teams struggled. From Alex’s perspective, other students at Georgia Tech seemed to have a grasp on their personal strengths. However, when it came to translating those strengths to well-rounded and robust teams, results were mixed. Students found it difficult to leverage their own strengths in complementary ways with those of teammates. That is why ETD’s work bridging the individual understanding of “Who am I?” to the problem of “How do I team?” is an integral part to the initiative’s mission, Alex explains.
Alex believes that learning to move from the individual’s strengths to the team’s success comes with the development of a shared language around talent and motivation. In the language of CliftonStrengths, Alex identifies his primary strengths as learner, context, strategic, analytical, and individualization. He describes his combination as both helping him develop processes and form teams and in helping him get to the broader context of a problem. While the language of CliftonStrengths helps Alex identify and describe his strengths, to him it is less the particularities of the language and more the team’s development together of a shared language that is important. With a growing awareness of strengths, comes a new understanding of equitable work as well as the resources to put these values around fairness into practice. Alex believes that dividing tasks should not be about making sure that everyone has some idealized equal amount of work, but rather that teams should prioritize giving each team member a piece of the project that they care about: “if I do 60% of the work that I love and enjoy, no big deal,” he concludes.
For Alex, teamwork is not only about cooperating on the release of semiconductors for Intel, or about developing processes to increase project management efficiency between U.S. and Chinese partners. Alex reframes individual tasks (i.e. washing the dishes) in terms of a team (i.e. being the member of “team potluck” who ensures there is a clean, welcoming host location). He notes, “I conceptualize almost my entire life around the concept of teams.” This reframing of interactions as teamwork is especially salient for his work as a mentor. “Mentorship is a team effort,” he explains. In his 50+ mentorship relationships (an accomplishment in itself for a 26-year-old), he sees his role not as a “wise sage” but rather as a player “invited to join a team.”
Ultimately, Alex’s work with ETD and his research with Dr. Mary Lynn Realff convinced him that storytelling is the most important component of professional representation. In his numerous hours helping mentees write resumes and prepare for job interviews, Alex uses his experiences from ETD to help people identify and articulate strengths as well as communicate gaps in a positive, constructive way. Alex is so passionate about the power of storytelling that he founded the social business Chocolate Milk Diplomacy, a career consultancy that empowers marginalized communities to tell their own professional stories. Alex’s story seems to be something out of the adventure genre, as he makes his way from the town of Albany, GA to Atlanta’s Georgia Tech and now to Intel’s offices in Portland, OR. We look forward to seeing where his journey takes him next!