Collaboration is a common human experience, in school, in the workplace, and in hobbies and leisure activities. Although instructional design work may be completed by independent designers, the collaborative approach of a design team offers numerous benefits for both the designers and their clients alike. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University studied the science behind collaboration, as well as the art of practicing collaboration, and found that every team they examined out-performed individuals both quantitatively and qualitatively. Instructional design teams may experience similar benefits, if they demonstrate the following collaborative practices.
Whether at the onset of each project, or upon hiring each designer, ensure each person’s roles and responsibilities have been clearly defined. Designers may find themselves either formally trained or naturally gravitating to one design aspect over another, ranging from content and curriculum planning, to project management, to writing and editing, to video creation, or administration of the learning management system. Few individuals excel in all of these areas, and a well-rounded design team consists of a group of individuals who have each mastered some of these areas and allow their teammates to flourish in the others.
Project management tools such as Slack and Trello allow teams to communicate and collaborate with ease, whether the teammates work together in an office or are spread across diverse geographic locations. These tools provide communication channels, document sharing, productivity trackers and more, housed together in one centralized location. Sophisticated instructional design specific tools such as eLearning authoring programs also offer methods for group collaboration. For example, the knowbly authoring program offers features such as course comments logs and collaboration notifications that allow designers to communicate with their teammates and course reviewers in real-time or at their leisure. These features help designers provide and receive design feedback, as well as communicate with their colleagues throughout all stages of the course development process.
Global teams face the challenge of communicating across time zones, where teammates’ business hours may not widely overlap. However, the use of project management and communication tools is not the only way to increase team efficiency. Teams working across multiple time zones may find themselves able to meet short deadlines by working throughout each of the time zones to complete work at rapid rates. For example, a designer in Europe may start a project in their morning, then at the end of their day pass the work to a colleague in the United States Eastern time zone, who then passes the work to a third colleague in the Pacific time zone. Over the course of one business day, the team may have found three days’ worth of productivity using this relay approach.
The intention of teamwork is to harness the best ideas and highest quality work from a team’s collective prowess. Although teams may find creative ways to work together to meet short deadlines, an ideal project timeline allows for sufficient design time as well as time for team members to give and receive feedback. When creating project schedules, a best practice is to incorporate time for the design team to review each other’s content (such as storyboards and first drafts of courses) prior to sending anything to subject matter experts and high-profile stakeholders for review. Team reviews create a safe space for designers to test functionality, catch mistakes such as typos, and receive general feedback from their peers on their design work. This step gives designers the confidence that when they later send their work to their project stakeholders, it has already been favorably reviewed and received by their peers and is more likely to be error-free.
Despite research demonstrating the benefits of collaboration, some designers may personally prefer to work independently. Unfortunately, this attitude may stem from previous negative experiences where they may have encountered common dangers of collaboration, such as in fighting, unequal distribution of the workload, and difficulty reaching consensus. Successful collaboration does not always happen by chance, and often times is the result of intentional practices that allow each member of the team to shine without overpowering others. In our previous article on Project Management for eLearning, we discussed the importance of risk mitigation. Taking the time to identify and plan for potential risks (such as any negative consequences of attempts at collaboration) is a proactive approach that can actually help to reduce or eliminate risks before they happen. Having plans for any occurrences that could derail your project will allow you to remain confident, cool, and capable of addressing these issues head-on. If collaboration sounds risky for your design team, make the effort to analyze and mitigate these risks so that your stakeholders can take advantage of the wide range of skills your team possesses.
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