Developing a Collaborative Culture

Corporate leaders highlight the need for a new generation of workers who can creatively solve problems by collaborating with other team-members. It’s imperative that our K-20 educational systems provide opportunities for learners to engage in a variety of strategies that help them to frame a problem, analyze information, synthesize that information into knowledge sets, and then evaluate and iterate their work realizing that there’s a good chance that the there will be need for another round of problem-solving. I had a chance to experience a good example of this type of process led by TeamBuilders Group, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm, and Point Park University. The seminar represented the mixing of the problem solving approach of Human Centered Design that’s employed at Point Park with skill building approach to collaboration that’s used by the TeamBuilders Group.

Setting the Stage: Agreeing on Norms

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

To start the seminar Jordan Lippman and his TeamBuilders Group initiated a conversation around Norms – what should be the agreed upon conditions for collaboration? Examples Jordan shared included: Be present, listen mindfully, share thoughts respectively, invite help from your team, encourage everyone to participate, and trust your team. Jordan then asked the group to add their thoughts to the list of team building conditions. It’s extremely important to make sure everyone agrees to the rules of the game. Without norms trying to work collaboratively becomes a competition where some people take control or dominate. I can remember so well as a student how I became the person in charge and ended up doing most of the work.

Solving the Problem

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

For the next set of activities Eric Stennett from Point Park University took the lead. The original group was divided into three teams of four people. For the initial activity the participants were challenged to brainstorm “problems” that they faced in their educational roles. Participants were instructed to put each idea on a Post-It Note. Then each group had to cluster their ideas based on some common thread and then name each cluster. Eric “took the hood” off to explain the rationale for each exercise as it related to Human Centered Design (HCD) developed by the LUMA Institute in Pittsburgh. The group used the technique of “Affinity Clustering.” The next step tapped into the HCD strategy of “Visualizing the Vote” where each person had four large dots to place on the clusters that he/she felt were most significant problems. Three problem areas came to the forefront: Building Systems, Creating Equity, and Developing Bridges.

At this point people were given choices – form new groups to develop a strategy solution for one of the problems. It was interesting for me as an observer to see how the new groups functioned. In the process roles were not assigned but by reinforcing the norms, care was taken to ensure equitable participation. I’ve learned that when you keep groups no larger than ten, you have a better chance to engage each person. When you set ground rules that everyone agrees upon, you even the playing field and allow everyone to be not only a contributor, but also an active listener.

Reflecting

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Often a team-building process ends with a solution and there’s no opportunity to discuss how to use what’s been learned or to evaluate the process. For this seminar the group reformed into a semi-circle and spent the necessary time to process the experience and think about next steps. Jordan Lippman used the opportunity to highlight the “Trust” model developed by his team. One of the shared problems came from one of the Point Park administrators – how do you get a team of colleagues who already know each other to collaborate? The seminar included a diverse group of people who didn’t know each other and were open to accepting the “norms.” What happens when you have a group that has a history of not collaborating? It was fascinating to hear how the group used the morning experience to address the problem – start with norms that everyone can agree upon, think about using “protocols” that help the process, and have someone in the group take on the role of a facilitator.

#CollaborativeCulture is a great way to #RemakeLearning – Ani Martinez

As I think about my work with high school students around Design Challenges I can see ways that I will improve my process based on this seminar. I will make sure the “norms” are clear and explicit. I’ll make some of the strategies I use more explicit so the students can build on the process. I’ll give more time for the student consulting teams to reflect and think about how they’ll use what they’ve learned in the process of the Design Challenge. Most importantly, I’ll go back to Fred Roger’s thought: Deep and Simple is Far more Meaningful than Shallow and Complex.

 

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