COLLABORATIVE TOOLS & USER RESEARCH

Designing for Collaboration 

Tool development for small group organization

#strategicdialogue 

#collabortiontools

#researchfordesign

Collaboration plays a vital role in innovation and can be made easier through facilitation, frameworks, and tools which direct the thinking process of a group. There is a gap in methods used to address the dynamics of small group formation and conflict mediation, presenting an opportunity space for a design process inquiry. 

 

The research culminated with the development of a tangible tool for small group organization; a process and a set of questions which initiates strategic dialogue between group members.  
 

DELIVERABLES

Collaboration tool, academic research paper

RESEARCHER

Jenny Whyte

CONTEXT & RESEARCH QUESTION 

How can our understanding of collaborative ecosystems help us to build tools to enhance the effectiveness of small group collaboration?

 

Our understanding of how to solve complex problems has evolved. In complex problems, we need multiple stakeholders, with a variety of skills and diverse knowledge sets to help generate creativity and new ways of knowing.

 

Creating mechanisms for working effectively together and maximizing the effects of multiple perspectives, however, is no small feat. Integrating the voices of many people to create something new can be met with very real human emotions e.g. confusion, resistance and power struggles that can easily filter into the work. Becoming a design thinking expert who facilitates and participates in collaboration of this nature requires the acquisition of skills which are founded in creativity, empathy, perspective taking, communication, active listening, and even conflict management.

It is clear that collaborative dynamics are comprised of various layers: the self, the roles are taken on, the relationship between members and the context or scenario they find themselves in. As project teams move through their work, these dynamics are all consciously ‘tetra-arising’; each at the mercy of a multitude of influencing factors. Whether actively considered or not, effective collaboration depends on these dynamics. If dysfunctional dynamics present or challenges are not managed effectively, teams could face compromised design plans, design outcomes, and emotional struggle.

 

How can our understanding of collaborative ecosystems help us to build tools to enhance the effectiveness of small group collaboration?

 

 

 

RESEARCH PLAN

#contextanalysis 

#painpoints

#organizationalbehaviour

#surveydesign

#prototyping

#workshops

Potential issues and layers of influence in small group dynamics were assessed using both primary and secondary research, and numerous theories and case studies for best collaborative practices were considered in tool development.

 

 

1. Personal Experience

 

Having experienced a design education program which aims to teach design thinking and many tools for collaborative thinking, there was time for deep reflection on the experience of collaboration at multiple scales. While the tools and methodologies known for collaborative research investigations and stakeholder engagement are plentiful, the tools needed to facilitate creative collaboration and conflict mediation at the level of a project team dynamic is itself, presented an opportunity space.

 

2. Literature and Case Study Review 

Potential issues and layers of influence in small group dynamics are assessed by examining organizational behavior case studies and literature review. Numerous theories for best collaborative practices are considered as the foundation theory for tool development. Google's Project Aristotle analysis, Tuckman's Group Development Theory and intentional learning educational philosophy formed the foundation structure of the tools development. 

3. Student Survey

Primary research with student groups engaged in collaborative processes was collected through surveys and one-to-one interviews. Pain points were extracted in order to begin to clearly see the issues that arise in real group dynamics.

4. Prototyping 

The research insights culminated with 5 key conditions for a tool structure which enabled effective group dynamics: versatility, facilitates communication, collaborative, addresses invisible culture, considers self and others. A process of prototyping and iterative learning created a small group collaboration tool, “Sum of Its Parts.”

5. Prototype Testing 

A prototype workshop was developed to test the tool in real group dynamics with students in the SFI program. The tool enabled a holistic structure of intentional inquiry and facilitated versatile conversations aimed to get to the roots of group dynamics issues.

 

 

 

INSIGHTS AND ANALYSIS

"The hardest part of working in groups is getting to know everyone boundaries and expectations; managing the different learning and working styles; understanding my own feelings, then having the capacity to explain that to others." 

- Survey Participants  

 

 

The research conducted led to insights which in turn developed 5 design goals to orient product creation. 

 


1. Facilitates communication  

Generates an information flow between group members to create an opportunity for assertiveness in individuals, but also makes space for others to listen and cooperate. 


Existing communication structures such as non-violent communication and compassionate inquiry, which guide communication and consensuality were extensively considered to guide inspiration for the design of the tool. The use of questions to provoke and inspire was illuminated as a mechanism to guide challenging conversations within interpersonal dynamics. 

 


2. Collaborative

 

Encourages groups to work together to address issues and generate opportunity for consensuality.

Individuals can have vastly different opinions, needs, working styles, values, and feeling states that can vary wildly depending on context. The organizing process of a team culture is founded in the deeper layers and can take time, trust, and willingness to understand and be interested in the individuals within the team and what they need in a team culture.

 


3. Addresses invisible culture  

 

Considers individual positions on feelings, beliefs, norms, values and additional aspects of culture which may not traditionally be considered as necessary, but come to impact small group dynamics.

While not always relevant to how well a group or an individual might perform, the ripple effects the norms or expectations created by an organizations culture creates is a very important point of influence. The tool must create what leading organizational behaviorist Richard Hackman calls ‘enabling conditions.’ 

 

4. Considers self and others

 

Creates a structure for individual paradigms to be considered and reflected to the group, in order for subjective viewpoints to be illuminated and clarified.

After studying hundreds of the teams operating offices of Google, Project Aristotle found that the teams that had the highest success where teams that, as a whole, had a high degree of communication and a high expression of emotional intelligence, which in turn created a sense of psychological safety for all members of the group.

 


5. Versatile

 

Can be adapted for use in any part of the group development process to build a more nuanced collective understanding of all members’ positions.  

The pain-points noted in the survey related to skill development needed for effective group collaboration as well as personal struggle. There is a sense of ‘not knowing’ or ‘trying to figure things out’ both personally and collectively which presents as a source of stress for students. The tool must help cut through this sense of unknowing at any stage. 

TITLE OF THE CALLOUT BLOCK

SUM OF ITS PARTS

A process of define, design, refine, distilled research insights and culminates with the creation of a small group collaboration tool, “Sum of Its Parts.” The tool enables a holistic structure of intentional inquiry and facilitates versatile conversations aimed to get to the roots of group dynamic issues.

Those who tested the tool all expressed positive feedback for its usefulness. Its design intention to facilitate intentional conversation was made a reality. It did not just provide space and time for personal reflection and inquiry, but also the opportunity to bounce those insights off of each other helped to achieve clarity about what was occurring with the group dynamics.

 

The structures of communication helped to address an understanding of both personal and collective needs, as well as group systems and behavior. In illuminating and aggregating these insights, the concepts and learnings found in the multiple interpretations between people are made visible to aid in the process of group sensemaking. The shared space for conscious reflection helps groups to navigate self-organization in ways that moved collaborative organizational learning from incidental to intentional, all the while building resilience and strength.

 

 

 

 

Graphic Design: Britney Mackey

Communication and collaboration are complicated processes which are dependent on a variety of factors, points of influence and conditions. “Sum of Its Parts” is a holistic framework of inquiry which fills an opportunity space for facilitated and co-created collaborative self-organization techniques. Through the use of a deliberate structure, principles of engagement and flexible goal orientation, intentional conversations between groups are facilitated with ease.

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