Blog / Teaming

Recent Blog Posts

October 11, 2019
Posted by Christina Ngo
October 9, 2019
Posted by Christina Ngo
August 13, 2019
Posted by Pooja Addla Hari
July 9, 2019
Posted by Lukas Wenrick

The other day I came across a book called Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy by Amy C. Edmondson. In the book, Edmondson describes “teaming” as “teamwork on the fly” (pg. 13). It is a set of mindsets and practices that allow groups of people to work together in a fluid environment. The pillars of teaming (pg. 52) include:

  • Speaking up: encouraging individuals to ask question, seek feedback and discuss failures
  • Experimentation: allowing failure to be accepted and encouraging iterative approach to problem-solving
  • Collaboration: working together within the organization and outside of the organization; ensuring mutual respect and clear shared goals
  • Reflection: questioning of processes to assess results and uncover new ideas

Teaming allows groups to approach complex problems or identify new opportunities for innovation. Edmondson argues that as the world gets more complex, successful businesses should be managed as complex adaptive systems that support “collaboration, innovation and organizational learning,” in order to best respond to uncertainty created by our rapidly changing world (pg. 23).

As I was reading the book, my brain kept screaming, “that sounds a lot like what happens at work!” Working in UI for the past 6.5 years, I’ve come to think that every workplace operates like we do. Then every year when new fellows start, I’m reminded that our office culture is unique. Often the paths forward on assignments are not clear. We typically learn by doing and are often encouraged to ask questions, share information, seek help of others, speak openly about mistakes and solicit feedback (both vertical and horizontal).

Establishing multiple channels of communication

To enable individuals to speak up, ask questions and seek feedback we’ve established multiple channels of communication including open-door policy, direct and group instant messaging (via Slack) and staff meetings.

With our open door policy anyone can pop-in and ask a person “do you have a minute?” or “can you help me think through x?”. It’s helpful when someone gets stuck on an assignment and needs in-person stimulus or feedback.

Through Slack, a group communication tool, we are able to ask quick questions to the team that may not be time sensitive, share funny or thought provoking articles, or communicate with a group of colleagues working on a specific project.

Lastly, via our staff meetings we provide a more formal channel of communication that serves as a place for reflection after events or major projects. Each person is required to debrief after major events or projects to promote shared learning.

Encouraging organizational learning

In the book, Edmondson shares how teaming is the foundation of “execution-as-learning,” an organizational approach that allows “organizations to adjust, improvise, or innovate while at the same time successfully delivering products or services to customers” (pg. 222). Through execution-as-learning organizations can diagnose a problem quickly, design solutions to the problem, deploy the plan quickly without fear of failure and reflect on the process to capture learning.

Through reading the book I’ve come to value the nuanced cultural mindsets that we’ve developed in UI that encourage us work together as a team not only internally but across departments and organizations. By developing the structure for teaming, we are able to better fulfill our mission of being responsive to needs and opportunities and advance innovations that propel the university forward.

Blog / Teaming