Building a Model for Successful Team Interaction

This post is part of a year-end series by MBA students at California College of the Arts’ Design MBA Program. Read more about our annual partnership here. by César Rivera

It was March last year when I moved to San Francisco from New York.  Adjusting to this new and exciting city has been a roller coaster of likes and dislikes (don’t tell New Yorkers but likes for the most part). As soon as I moved here I started working at a marketing agency in the Embarcadero. Being my first kind of job in this field I was excited and very enthusiastic about finally graduating from college and experiencing team interactions in “the real world.”

Having worked with other kinds of teams in the past before working at this agency was an achievement – for myself and my professional growth. However, after several months of working there I started noticing certain problematic interactions between members of our team.  At the time I found them unhealthy not only in the long run for the company but also for a group of creative people trying to achieve innovative approaches.

One of my concerns developed due to what I perceived as a lack of commitment and willingness by our members to work together. Being in charge of numerous projects in a small agency requires people to come together and deliver quality results in short time frames. By observing and analyzing our behaviors as team members and applying theories of interaction design, I created the following model for successful team interaction:

According to Jesse James Garret in The Elements of User Experience, “Interaction Design is concerned with describing possible user behavior and defining how the system will accommodate and respond to that behavior.” If we think of team interaction and interpret it in terms of interaction design, we could then better perceive teams as systems that accommodate behaviors with each particular individual in the team responsible for the behaviors that affect the system. Now, if we move further into the structure of teams and how each individual interacts, we can re-structure the mechanics of the system to improve efficiency and efficacy.

The following model,  which is based on Garret’s model in elements of user experience, depicts the structure for successful team interactions:

It is noon at the agency and as usual people are either hungry or ready for a break. Some individuals out of tiredness and sometimes frustration, start getting grouchy (common behavior around this time). I find myself having to ask one of the designers to please make some corrections to a creative, since the client just changed his mind about some objects in it. The designer gives me an abominable look and responds rudely, “I am working on other projects and I be will going to lunch after that, I’ll do it then.” Unfortunately this particular project can’t wait and it needs to be corrected ASAP so I politely demand her prompt attention to the matter.

Looking to the right of the Team Interaction Model, “Abstract” and “Concrete” represent the objectives and the outcomes of successful team interactions. At the bottom of the model “Personal objectives” are personal goals that we are trying to accomplish in life which conforms to the strategy which is an “abstract” piece of our commitment within the team. Our personal objectives are sometimes overshadowed by the routines and stress of every day life, therefore making us lose  focus regarding our objectives. If the designer had rephrased the tone and context of her question, something like “Couldn’t it wait until after lunch time, I am busy finishing this other project?” This would have made my reaction much more smoother and less demanding. I would have sympathized with her and who knows even made the changes myself.

After stating my request to the designer, I also explained that this account is her responsibility and therefore we need to deliver the projects on time so we will not lose the insertion date of the creative, which has been reiterated to me by the project manager all morning long. After a somewhat colder look than before, the designer agrees to take care of her responsibility and makes the changes right away.

Moving up the model we have the “Duties and responsibilities” which are part of the scope of our job and relate to our position within the team. Following comes “Team interaction” which is the structure of our model. Here is where our objectives and responsibilities overlap with other’s objectives and responsibilities to work jointly and achieve the team’s goals. Therefore we can think of team interaction in this phase as our ability to successfully commit to others responsibilities and objectives.

Later that day, the designer and I had a conversation about the earlier attitude I got from her. She explained how frustrated she was feeling about the many changes in the creative. I understood her frustration and reminded her how often some clients change their decision and that she should not take it personally. I also brought up the concerns I had on being able to rely on her to do the tasks she is responsible for and to work on her attitude which affects the way we approach each other.

Moving closer to the “concrete” in our model, which is a visible representation of our actions, we find the “skeleton” of our model consisting of communication, collaboration, and insights. These core elements are most perceived in the work place, as they are what makes us unique to the team. On the top end we have the surface, consisting of our attitudes and behaviors. The surface is how others perceive us; it is a crucial stage in our model since it can affect the model all the way from the top down or vice-versa.

So next time, when you find yourself frustrated at work, remember that your objectives will not be the only driving force to your success. It is crucial in the marketplace to be able to successfully make your way through all the steps in this model. Be confident – by opening your mind to other’s ideas you will enlighten your own.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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