Important personal characteristics of research team members
This is the sixth post in a series considering the role of psychological research within the context of an architectural practice. The goal of this series is to provide answers to six key questions, namely, the why, what, who, when, how and where, of design focused psychological research.
In this post we’ll continue addressing the “who” of psychological research in architecture [WHO: What to ask when assembling a psychosocial research team] by considering a series of questions relating to the characteristics of research team members. According to Mickan and Rodger the efficiency of a team is influenced by the organizational context a team functions in, the characteristics of individual researchers and the processes internal to the team. Since psychological research in architectural practice is most often performed as a team, characteristics of effective teams should be considered when identifying researchers. While the previous post addressed questions regarding a firm’s structure and goals, this post will consider the characteristics of individual researchers from a personal point of view.
Each individual brings a number of unique characteristics to a research team. While some of these are irrelevant relative to the overall purpose and success of a research project, others can be crucial. It is therefore important to understand which characteristics may contribute to the success of a research project. Previous studies show that self-knowledge, trust, commitment and flexibility are important factors influencing individual participation in teams. Given that these characteristics are rather subjective in nature, it is understandable that they are easily overlooked in practice when considering research teams. Since various design focused psycho-social research projects rely on methodologies developed in the social sciences, it is also reasonable to expect that personal characteristics valued in these related disciplines will also be important in design focused psycho-social research. Even in cases where the methodology does not require these characteristics, teamwork depends on establishing and managing relationships between individuals with a variety of personalities and experiences. Self-knowledge, trust, commitment and flexibility can greatly enhance these relationships.
Self-knowledge: The personal characteristics team members bring to a research team can directly affect a team’s performance. Team members who are self-aware, understanding their own biases, strengths and weaknesses are better able to manage their own expectations and performance. Self-awareness can influence a team member’s level of satisfaction, productivity and feelings towards others, which ultimately influences the performance of the team as a whole. Within the context of design focused psycho-social research team members should ask themselves the following questions when considering participation in a team based research project:
• What am I good at? (Strengths)
• What do I need help with? (Weaknesses)
• How does success make me feel?
• How do I deal with failure?
• Does failure scare me, why? If not why not?
• What do I have strong opinions about?
• What defines me?
Trust: Trust within a research team is established over time and can greatly enhance the performance of a group since it supports communication and the reciprocal dynamics crucial to team success. A lack of trust within a team leads members to question the abilities and intentions of other team members and can result in team members withdrawing and becoming isolated. In contrast to this, trusting members are more inclined to share their expertise and skills without fear of being discounted or exploited. In order to develop trust, team members need to recognize and value the distinct characteristics and contributions of other members of the group, and seek to help others achieve their goals. Team members can assess their own levels of trust and trustworthiness by considering the following questions:
• Do I need to be in control, or can I have others take the lead?
• Do I trust that others will do what they say they will do?
• Am I comfortable sharing new or unusual ideas with my team? Why or why not?
• Am I comfortable with others knowing my weaknesses?
• Do I listen to others even if they have a view different from mine?
• Do I consider myself trustworthy? Why or why not?
• Am I interested in assisting other team members reach their goals even if it will inconvenience me?
Commitment: This characteristic refers to the degree to which an individual is, and intends to be, involved with a certain task or initiative. Without a certain level of commitment within a research team, the achievement of shared goals is delayed or, in some cases, never accomplished. This is especially true in architectural practice where larger project goals can easily displace research goals when there is not sufficient team commitment. Shared goals provide direction and motivation for team members. Team members develop a sense of ownership and responsibility when team commitment is evident. A high level of commitment also helps teams deal with the inevitable challenges research projects bring. The willingness to contribute to decisions while keeping a balance between team collaboration and interdependence increases as individual commitment increases. When considering research, potential team members should ask themselves the following questions:
• Why do I want to do this research project?
• What is the best and worst possible outcome of this project?
• How will I measure success?
• How important is this project in relation to other professional priorities?
• How important is this project in relation to other personal priorities?
• How much time am I willing to spend on this project?
• Am I willing to pick up the slack when other team members need support?
• How will I show my commitment while keeping a balance?
• What are the most typical things that will make other members question my commitment?
• How can I foster commitment in my team?
Flexibility: This characteristic refers to an individual’s ability to manage and process unexpected input received from other team members as well as the larger research environment in which a project takes place. Flexibility requires an honest and realistic assessment of the input received, and a sufficient degree of self-knowledge in order to respond appropriately while moving a project forward. This characteristic also requires the ability to be receptive to different views, values and approaches. Inflexible teams are prone to internal conflict and are easily distracted or disrupted by unexpected developments. The following questions will assist team members to consider their flexibility, both personally and collectively:
• Which one challenges me the most: Static or dynamic environments?
• How do I feel about unexpected research results?
• How and why have I failed in the past?
• What is my role in this project, and how do I know that?
• Am I comfortable with ‘stepping in’ when help is needed?
These are only a small sample of questions that can assist researchers to identify their role within a research team. Self-knowledge, trust, commitment and flexibility are four crucial personal factors to consider when gathering a team of researchers. In the next post, aspects related to the internal team process will be discussed.
Mickan, S., & Rodger, S. (2000). Characteristics of Effective Teams: A Literature Review.Australian Health Review., Vol.23 No 3. CSIRO Publishing.
An Introduction to Psychological Research in Architectural Practice
Why does psychological research in architectural practice matter?
Considering psychosocial research as a part of architectural practice
5 Points on the Nature of Psychosocial Research in Architecture
WHO: What to ask when assembling a psycholosocial research team