Collaborating in Semester 2

Semester 2 has been all about learning by doing, by making, by practicing practical research in groups. All of our projects have included physically building something and collaborating with fellow students. Due to my design thinking background, I am used to work in groups, throughout my entire undergraduate course lots of the work I developed was in teams, but I didn’t understand the value of it until I joined Stanford’s ME310 project where I was put to work in multidisciplinary teams and I understood the concept of a T-shaped person as it is explained by Tim Brown. However, here I have found it very challenging and to be honest quite frustrating.

I understand the value of collaboration; I believe it is crucial to achieve success in a project. Nobody knows it all, and ideas only get stronger when you share them with others, when you cross pollinate them with people of different backgrounds and different cultures. I believe that when you are working in groups, you can measure the success of the outcome when at the end of the day you look at it and say, I couldn’t have accomplished this on my own, I needed each single person in the team to reach this particular solution in this exact way. That would mean there was a good integration of the team and that each member contributed from their own perspective. Sadly, I don’t think I can say that with the last few projects I have been working on.

I think an issue that has affected the performance of the teams, is a key point mentioned by Richard Sennett in his talk about his new book “Together”. We have worked in short term timeframes that it doesn’t allow us to develop the understanding of each other. When working in teams it is important to get to know each person, and because we have to accomplish something quickly we are focusing on the short term objectives, instead of getting to know the people on the team. It is crucial to know their backgrounds and their skills to potentially use those for the project but this hasn’t happened and it is something I would like to work on in my next team project. Maybe its because I am so different to all of the Chinese that I feel this way, maybe they all own each other, and I am just alienated but I would still like to know what they are good at to know how they can contribute to the work. However, communication has obstructed all possibilities. It is like we are talking two different languages, in fact we are. I get incredibly frustrated when I am trying to say something and people are talking in a different language or discussing ideas of a group project in Chinese. I understand English is not their first language, I empathise with that, it is not my first language either, but it is the common language between us which is why we should use it to communicate in teams. I find it very hard to understand when they are trying to explain ideas, I really try, but I really struggle. Maybe a good exercise we can do when brainstorming and explaining ideas is using more drawings than words. After all, a drawing can communicate so many things and maybe we can all understand ourselves.

Moreover, something I would like to work on, its making more subjunctive statements. I tend to always say “I think” or “I believe” but instead I am going to start saying “it seems to me” to encourage participation and open discussions. I also have to be more patience. I need to understand that people do things in different ways and we all work differently, specially because we are from different cultures. I can’t expect people to act the way I do or think the way I do, the problem is that I am very perfectionist and I want the outcome of the project to be as good as it can be, so sometimes I take too much responsibility because I trust I can do it, and because I don’t know my fellow team members I do not trust them, which is an issue I have to work on. For instance, in one of my projects, we had to work with vinyl, and I have done this various of times, I am very picky with it and I hate when it is not pasted correctly and there are bubbles all over the work. I wanted to stick the vinyl to make sure it would look perfect, but all of my team wanted to try, so of course we all did it, but the outcome was not what I have wanted, some of the pieces have bubbles all over it, which makes me so frustrated, and I tell myself, I wish I would have done it alone. However, everyone has to get a go at everything and make their own mistakes to actually learn new things.

Finally, the benefit of working in groups is the fact that you can use everyone’s abilities for the project. 3 brains think more than 1, and by working on teams’ people can create different ideas, and build upon those ideas. Everyone sees things differently, so maybe what someone says its not that break through statement, but it can help someone else get inspired and by collaborating build that outstanding idea together. Also, it is easier to prototype, as designers we always need extra hands, and by working on teams we can optimize time, get more things done and thus try different ideas at the same time to see what works best.

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