Creating a Collaborative Culture

Presented by: First Author: Elizabeth Lockwood; Secondary Author: Marjorie Marcellus

Most of our graduates seek employment in the design industry and are expected to engage in a highly collaborative work environment. We are aware of this job skill expectation based on research regarding current work trends. When asked, “What key traits do you look for in an entry level designer?” our Program Advisory Committee answered unanimously, “The ability to work collaboratively.”  Our students require experience in applying the design process within a group setting. The 2014 CIDA standards necessitate evidence of consensus building outcomes in the classroom. When faced with group projects in the academic setting, students complain and are opposed to problem solving with their peers. The experience is often discouraging, resulting in a negative impression of team environments. Simply stating, “Now we will work in groups,” has not been effective. Putting students in team settings without training is like pushing a child into the deep end of a pool and expecting her to swim. This push, without instruction, is a sure way to create a fear of going back into the water, or in our case back into “the group.”  

Our Pecha Kucha Presentation introduces a new approach to a common challenge in design education - How to teach designers to work in teams, to embrace and seek consensus building and to practice key conditions for creating collaboration.  We will show how we created a Hospitality Design studio course that moves away from students working alone on a project. Our first prototype class had ten individuals collaborating on one project. This framework gave the students the opportunity to work in a more realistic design studio setting, closer to the working dynamics of a professional firm. 

The curriculum we designed teaches students how to listen to multiple points of view – align and sculpt a variety of ideas towards greater innovation and creative problem solving.  The emphasis of the course is the ‘group problem solving process,’ not the end result. (However, it is important to note that the final deliverables and verbal presentation were one of the most creative we have seen.) Through the 11- week course students learned how to create working relationships and how to cultivate key conditions for creating collaboration. A final design solution was reached, only with the consensus of the entire class, and then presented. The students came away from this class understanding how they could apply conditions for collaboration to their future design projects.  

In our presentation we will explain how we introduced, discussed and applied the following
Ten Key conditions for creating collaboration in an interior design educational setting:
The Balancing Act, Amplify Differences, Brainstorming Methods, Building Consensus, Active Listening, Reflective Practices, Understanding Emotional Intelligence, Establishing Group Norms, Creating Shared Leadership, It’s All About Relationships. (See attached sample images demonstrating class exercises)

By changing the direction of this course and including these exercises into our design curriculum, we’ve experienced a very positive Ripple Effect: Students from other disciplines have requested similar courses be added to their programs. The Result: Multidisciplinary courses have been created and this teaching method has been applied. The instructor of this course submitted a video of her teaching method and won honorable mention for CIDA’s 2013 Innovative Education Award!  

Adopting the exercises suggested in this presentation, any instructor can create a collaborative environment that fosters strong, ethical working relationships. “Encouraging students to dive into the often messy, challenging world of collaboration and consensus building, allows them to gain the knowledge and tools that will help them establish positive and productive group experiences to take with them into the future.” (Lockwood & Quistorff, 2012).

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