In our Human Centered Design & Engineering class, we are working on a mock consulting project with a sustainability focus. Similar to a case competition, these projects are supposed to help us learn about typical business projects and provide us with the opportunity to build leading teamwork skills. There are a number of elements that make a project successful. First, we started off established guidelines for teamwork and created an agreement to reinforce the rules. Next, we had our initial project kickoff meeting that determined our research focus and generated a list of action items for each team member. Then, we presented our initial oral proposal (sales pitch) to promote our skills, credentials and our project vision. To help us in the process, we used two Google applications: Groups and Docs so that we can work together collaboratively. Several important tools one must consider using when working on team-based projects are: written agreements that set the procedures, policies and objectives for the project; information systems that suit the needs; and efficient methods of communicating.
First, we drafted a team work agreement that sets out rules that we must follow.
Team Working Agreement (TWA)
When meetings are necessary, they shall take place on either Monday or Wednesday, one hour before class. The meeting place for these meetings will be prearranged in an appropriate location (i.e. in the classroom (Low 101), or a library). An advanced notice email will be sent out at least day prior to the planned meeting in the event of a cancellation, or project emergency.
In the event that a team member becomes sick, or needs to miss a meeting due to conflict, it is expected that they will let the group know through email ahead of time. On the account of several absences, the team member in question will be confronted and talked to.
Communication will be done via email and Google Group. Everyone must check these sources of communication at least once a week (more during more busy parts of the project). In case of urgent situations (members need help and/or are behind in work), groups members will call each other to resolve any issues.
Each member is required to contribute to the team project. Every group member will be responsible for communicating with the group, updating their work status with the group, attending group meetings, and completing their portion of the project.
Team members are allowed to ask for help from other members when there is trouble in research, or when the team member is unable to finish the assigned work by the agreed deadline.
All team members will be respectful of each others ideas, and follow the agreed TWA. If team disagreements occur, the argument will be talked over by creating a compromise that everyone can agree to. If no compromise can be met, a majority vote will rule. This means a vote of 3 out of 5 will decide the outcome of the argument.
V. Additional Material
In the future, TWA amendments may be changed if the majority vote (3 out of 5) agrees. The time and place to do so is at group meetings.
If the TWA is not being followed, the following 3 actions will take place:
1. An email warning will be sent out.
2. If problem persists, a verbal confrontation will take place at group meetings or in class.
3. If problem still persists and cannot be resolved, there will be a reporting the instructor.
Although it is not as stringent as the typical legal document, it establishes a criteria for us to follow. Also, the process of drafting the document was an opportunity to work with the newly created team and to get to know each other. So, it is generally a good idea to have one of these types of agreements, so that when issues occur, there is a policy to enforce those situations.
Having the right software tools and information systems is also very important. For our team of 5 people, we like using Google’s series of applications. They are quick and easy and they serve our needs. Google Groups enable us to message each other and share necessary project files in an easy-to-use place. Google Docs allows us to be working on the same presentation at the same time, without having to worry about merging slides from different files with different formats.
Another one of the most crucial factors that determine success is effective communication. Working in a team environment with more than two people, there is often “politics” involved. If a team member is having an issue with a particular action item or deliverable, we ask that that the member speak up and share with the group, so we can work together and get the project done. The number one goal is actually getting the project done in a timely and quality manner. We each can communicate each other via phone, SMS, email, instant messaging, Google groups, Facebook and of course in person when we see each other. Lastly, I’d like to stress the importance of interpersonal communication. In many cases, it is important to communicate the person. As I stated in one of my earlier blog posts, “Eating lunch with people who are going in the direction you want to move in“, liking someone’s status update on Facebook isn’t really “communication”.
Overall, we decided to establish standard objectives and procedures. We utilized two different methods of collaborative communication in our project team: Google applications (Groups and Docs) and face-to-face meetings. And we emphaisezed the need to communicate effectively.