We just wrapped-up our d.school class Clicks-n-Bricks: Creating Mass Market Experiences. When I walked in the door on Friday night after our teaching team went out to celebrate, the first thing I said to my wife was “That just might be the best team I will ever be on in my life.” The other team members were Michael Dearing, Debra Dunn, Liz Gerber, Perry Klebahn and Alex Ko.
I am not saying we were perfect; we made plenty of mistakes teaching the class. I can count at least a dozen things I wish we had done differently. But it was such a great team because everyone was competent, we had complimentary skills, everyone did what had to be done (no one ever even hinted that something “wasn’t my job), and perhaps best of all, I have never been on a team that considered so much information, argued about it all, and then made and implemented decisions. I disagreed with at least a third of the decisions that we made. But since I respected everyone so much, I never felt a bit of resentment about what we had decided to do – I just did what I could to get it done. And I think this was true of every member of the team. I have never been on a team where 25 or 30 suggestions and three or four possible overall solutions are surfaced, argued over, and then a path chosen in 10 minutes or less. And it happened routinely. I can’t recall ever feeling like we were bogged down in a stupid argument, any moment where any member conveyed disrespect, and – although it may have happened – any moment where any member was afraid to voice an opposing view. Debra was especially good at this, often laughing and getting us to laugh as we were arguing different points of view and -- always -- making decision about what TO DO.
There is a substantial literature on conflict in teams, and the upshot is that effective teams (especially creative teams) fight over ideas in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I write about this research in Weird Ideas That Work. Intel is the firm that is perhaps most famous for fighting over ideas, as they give all new employees classes in constructive confrontation. Plus argument over ideas is one of the hallmarks of Andy Grove’s management style. Unfortunately, most teams I have been on either don’t fight over ideas, or when they try to, they swerve into personal nastiness.
As I learned in graduate school, members of teams are often remarkably blind to what is driving their feelings and actions. So I may be missing the real reasons it felt so good to work on the Clicks-n-bricks team. But three reasons strike me. The first has to do with the amount of experience that everyone on the team has had in groups – indeed, Debra, Perry, and Michael all have extensive experience as senior executives in corporations, and Alex and Liz also both have substantial experience in teams. In fact, although Liz was a "student" and we were "faculty" she usually was the one who stood up and led the group discussion -- so in a group that could have been hung-up on status differences, that didn't happen. The second is that there was not one person in the team who ever acted as if he or she was superior to the rest, there was so little arrogance it was astounding – people consistently understood and acted as if doing what was right for the students was all that mattered. And when one of us forgot what mattered for a moment, another member would remind him or her in a supportive way. And third, as Perry said, we were all so busy with other things that it was just plain rude to waste others’ time – we just had to get it on the table, hash it out, and get it done. I love working with people who I can have a good fast fight with, and like them even more when it is over – even when I’ve lost.
I will write about the wonderful work that the students did in a future post, but for now, it is our group that is on my mind. I wanted to get this down because, to be frank, we’ve been so focused on doing our work all term that I don’t think any of us took the time to really think about and talk about what thing we had all been part of until it all ended Friday night. Freud said something like "groups bring out the best and the worst in human behavior." This time I get lucky, and got the best!