Realm of The Possible

Reflection and discussion about Design Practice, Arts, Teaching.

I started writting blog posts about Sharing Design Practice during Outreachy Program, I worked then as a Designer for Mozilla Foundation. I wish here to continue sharing my reflection.

Post #04 – Open Design

Post #03 – Designing for Users

Post #02 – Teamwork · About Collaboration

Post #01 – Engagement

Post #02 – Teamwork · About Collaboration

We have all experienced it: in a school or in a professional context, in a charity or voluntary work context, in our family or with friends; teamwork is not always easy.
We may work with people we know or with people we don't know. We may either work with one person only or with a larger group.

How do we work in a team? How do we find our place? How do we give our opinion, communicate and listen to the others? How do we manage conflicts? How do we take into consideration everyone's contribution?

Here are some lines of enquiry to reflect upon:

— 1. The context: how to define your place in the group, in which listening and communication are essential (it is not so easy to put into practice!)

— 2. Means you can use in meetings and working sessions:

A. To discuss: get everyone to speak in turn (recommended in meetings with five people and more), assign three different roles within the group: a facilitator, a time-keeper, and someone who takes notes.

B. To detect and appease tensions: choose one or more mediators

C. To ensure the group dynamics: assign the tasks, roles and responsibilities

— 3. Two examples we are going to present to discuss teamwork: Open Practice Work Team and Cofestival

— 1. The context

How do we find our place in the group? Your involvement, your speaking in public, your role and your responsibilities will differ according to the context (professional or private), to the established relationships with the people in the group; and also according to what you are asked to do and how much investment you are willing to make.

Depending on the personality of each participant, each person's role will progressively and naturally develop with people who will feel more comfortable at speaking up and those who are quieter.

How do we share our point of view and express ourselves when we are shy or reserved? Or when we are on the opposite end and have a natural tendency to lead a discussion and may impose our point of view? How do we take into consideration everyone's opinion and listen to them as well as challenging them?

* Ice breakers for participants – Examples from the Cofestival and COP21 *

For participants who don't know each other or just a little bit, you can start the first meetings with short games (a few minutes each), here are some examples.

During the Cofestival [1], the facilitator suggested two games (each timed so that they don't take too much time in the meeting) to the nine attendees:
First game: we were asked to stand in alphabetical order according to our forenames; people therefore had to introduce themselves in order to win as a group.
Second game: we were asked to stand in alphabetical order according to the city where we were born in.

As the introduction of a workshop during the COP21 (November 2015):
the organiser asked us to stand opposite him on a line drawn on the floor (around 40 participants); we were asked to place ourselves in alphabetical order according to our forenames with this constraint: we had to stay on this line when moving and our feet could not step out of the line (we thus had to hold each other when we tried to step forward or backward. You can't visualize it? Have a try!).

Those simple games enable us to introduce ourselves (the forename is essential to hail someone, reminding us of name tags used in some places; the city where we were born gives us insight into our interlocutor's background and can trigger further discussions). Also a group exchange is taking place: how do we organise ourselves and work together to meet the objectives? Here the collaborative effort has already started.

In this respect, listening and communicating are essential to succeed; however it is not so easy to put those skills into practice!

In the next part of the article, we will see which means you could use for applying those skills.

— 2. Means you can use in meetings and working sessions

A. To discuss
Get everyone to speak in turn and assign three different roles within the group: a facilitator, a time-keeper, and someone who takes notes.
For the Cofestival, the nine co-organisers were asked to speak in turn, which allowed everyone to give her/his opinion (taking into account the time needed by each person to think before sharing one's idea or opinion).
You can read more details in the Part 3.

B. To detect and appease tensions
Choose one or more mediators.
For the Cofestival, we chose two mediators to help with the internal organisation in the group, and also three mediators to look after the attendees during the festival.
You can read more details in the Part 3.
This role of mediation can also be assigned to a different participant at each meeting or session (read the below “The group dynamics” section).

C. The group dynamics
The assignment of tasks, roles and responsibilities enables us to divide the workload, and therefore reduces the pressure and stress that are growing when the event is approaching.

If you would like the group to work the best way, you can create a friendly and benevolent workplace.

* A few words about the different roles in a group *

Extract from Alexis Metaireau's article “Roles, Importance of informal roles and their sharing within the group” [2].)

A solution mentioned by StarHawk and taken over by David Vercauteren rests upon the existence of informal roles within a group and the necessity to change them from time to time amongst the group members (as well as the responsibilities attached to those roles)

* The Crows
The Crows are visionaries […]. They think in the long term and keep in mind the goals of the group. They suggest new directions; they raise plans, develop strategies and anticipate problems and needs.
They often have lots of influence on the group. If one or two people suggest long-term plans, the others would agree, only because they haven't thought about other directions that could be taken. It would be in the interest of the group to consider the Crows’ questions.

* The Graces
The Graces are always attentive to the energy in the group, ready to strengthen it when it is weakening, to guide it and channel it when it is strong.
They bring to the group […] enthusiasm, energy and the ability to improve oneself. They make people feel well, create enthusiasm for the group, welcome new members, and bring in new ones. They offer inspiration and generate new ideas.

* The Dragons
The Dragon enables the group to stay focused […] on the practical and realistic aspect of things […]. The Dragon takes care of the resources of the group, of its borders and mentions its boundaries.
Questions arisen by the Dragon:
Is the way we are working viable?
Are our resources renewed?
Do people wear themselves out? Why?
Can we really throw ourselves in this project and succeed?
Which borders do we need and want?
How do we establish those borders? How do we protect the group from intrusions, invasions, lapse in concentration and from what drains our energy?
The Dragons establish borders that give the group a safety feeling; and boundaries that make it viable over time. They may be perceived as killjoy, but they may gain respect from those who feel overwhelmed in the group and can not share the Crows’ and the Graces’ energy.
Feeding the Dragons can enable the group to remain together over time. But if this role is not assigned to other people in the group at some point, even the Dragons may wear themselves out.

* The Spiders
The centre of a group can be formed with a “ spiritual core ”, a shared goal or vision, or it can express itself through one person. In hierarchical ways of thinking, the teacher or the guru holds the centre of the network. […]
In non-hierarchical groups, some people may be perceived as central: they have information the others need and are the points of contact in the group.
However a Spider is more effective if neither does she/he monopolise the communication nor does she/he hold back information but rather ask relevant questions which could create and reinforce a real complex communications network.

* The Snakes
The Snakes are particularly concerned about the way people are feeling. […] The Snakes are aware of rumours and burgeoning conflicts; and bring them into the open, where they could use their mediation skills and find a solution to the problems. […]
The Snakes infringe the laws of the Censor, talk about unsaid things and highlight what others don't see or prefer to keep hidden. […]
The Snakes can reduce feelings of antipathy against them if they take the trouble to ask questions to the group and do not provide analyses.

— 3. Two examples to discuss teamwork: Open Practice Work Team and Cofestival

A. Open Practice Work Team – Mozilla Work Week, December 2015

How do we work with people who already know each other and people who we work with for the first time?
What makes up an ideal place to work in?
During the Mozilla Work Week in Orlando, I had the opportunity to join the Open Practice Work Team. What made this team such a nice group to work with?

At the beginning of each working session, we were asked how we were doing. (We could compare it to The Graces' role, read “The group dynamics” section, Part 2.)
I would say that our expertise, knowledge and skills were coming together. One suggestion made by someone would become a starting point to generating ideas and thoughts from the others.
Then the quality of the listening, the discussions, the exchange and the sharing of ideas and actions allowed us to accomplish a great community work.
Everyone's opinion was taken into consideration as we were asked to contribute to the group work with comments and ideas at each step. Each thus played a part in the workshop.

To me, the key point was active listening. This was what made me feel welcomed and created an inclusive working environment. This put me at ease to give my opinion as a new member in the group.
All those above mentioned points created a benevolent atmosphere in which we were not afraid to give and share our opinion; in which we were listened to and supported. They brought cohesion and enabled us to reach a shared outcome.

I would like to thank my Open Practice Work Team (Andre, Bobby, Katie, Meghan, Padula and Ricardo); it was a great environment to work in.

B. Cofestival – Paris, September 2015

Cofestival is an inclusive festival about discovering and broadening access to sciences and technology that we organised in Paris in September 2015.

I will talk in particular about the organisation of the meetings, our responsibilities and the assignment of the tasks.

B.1. The organisation and the roles
The group was formed of nine co-organisers, who each had equal influence. The reduced number of members enabled us to follow up with the overall organisation process, the notes and minutes, the tasks shared into subgroups, the to-do lists, the logistics and the project's progress; and to easily communicate within the group.
When a group is lower than ten people, we get a flat structure rather than a hierarchical structure; which can help make shared decisions easily and quickly.
The assignment of the tasks was based on volunteering. We also created thematic subgroups (e.g. “Communication”, “Call for volunteers”, “Computers loan”, “Video Recording”, “Meals”, etc.).
Our way of operating relied upon autonomy, trust and communication.
Moreover, we set up a transparent organisation: all our documents (meeting minutes, to-do lists, logistics and accounts) were published on etherpad online files and accessible to everyone.

B.2. Communication and decision-making
We set up three roles for each meeting: a facilitator (who led the meeting and followed the agenda), a time-keeper (to help with the meeting's progress) and a person who would take notes; the logistics were thus dealt with and everyone could concentrate on the content of the meeting.
We got everyone to speak in turn in order to avoid participants talking at the same time and make them listen to each other. This enabled each person to give her/his opinion without being afraid of being interrupted and to have the time to think about what she/he would say as well as allowing moments of silences.
We could pass our turn, listen to other opinions and reflect about them before speaking. Speaking in turn made it possible to discuss disagreements.
Decisions were made unanimously (and were necessarily based on compromise) – although it could be really difficult to win unanimous support for each point of the meeting – to validate the points in the agenda and move on.
Since a major objection could prevent a co-organiser from staying in the group and would have led to her/his departure from the festival; we applied the overall above process (get everyone to give her/his opinion) until it became a minor objection and we got a decision unanimously made.

B.3. Dealing with tensions
We decided to choose two mediators who were asked to defuse contentious situations between co-organisers.
This was all the more important when the event was approaching as tension, pressure and tiredness were growing and could have put in jeopardy the event itself.
We also chose three mediators to look after the attendees during the festival: they could look for them if they encountered any problem with an organiser, a speaker or another participant. We could rely upon our Code of Conduct to remind some rules (we didn't have any requests during the festival).

A really comprehensive article has been written by a co-organiser giving some feedback on the festival (in French) [3]: what worked well, what didn’t work and what could be improved.

I hope this article gave you food for thought to try what we did and go one step further in your research.

Mozilla Work Week in Orlando, December 2015
Mozilla Work Week in Orlando, December 2015