This is the seventh 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.
The previous post in the series addressed characteristics of individual researchers. This post continues the discussion regarding the “who” of psycho-social research in architectural practice by considering the factors, which contribute to the team process.
Mickan and Rodger documented a number of factors internal to teams which can influence the effectiveness of teams. While their work is largely based on teamwork within a medical context, the same team processes influence the success of research teams. This post will address the importance of communication and coordination, cohesion and social relationships, conflict management, and performance feedback, in establishing an effective team process.
Communication and coordination
Communication refers to the process of imparting information or sharing of feelings or ideas with others and can be of formal or informal nature. Coordination refers to the organization of different elements or actions to enable them to work together effectively. Even though these aspects are two of the most obvious factors for team success; they are often assumed and therefore often overlooked.
Good communication supports coordination and is crucial in clarifying expectations, setting goals and assessing research progress. Effective communication requires team members to be clear about their individual roles in a team as well as their individual responsibilities and enable team members to take ownership of their projects. Communication also extends beyond the team to the larger organization the team functions within in order to confirm that research goals are in line with those of the larger organization. The following questions can help teams assess the current state and value of communication in their teams:
- What are the goals of our research project?
- What are the goals for our research team?
- When was the last time we discussed these goals as a team?
- What is the project schedule and are all members aware of it?
- Have we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of our team?
- What opportunities have we created for the team to communicate?
Cohesion and Social relationships
Cohesion refers to the act of forming a united whole. Well integrated teams exhibit a level of cohesion characterized by shared goals, good communication and individual commitment to the team goals.
Members of cohesive teams display a higher level of dedication to the research task or team. Team cohesion generally correlates with positive team performance.
Smaller team sizes, shared attitudes and physical, face to face interaction can all contribute to the creation of team unity. Maintaining communication during periods of success and/or failure also contributes to team unity.
Cohesion within a team is improved by establishing social relationships between team members. Empathic and supportive behavior between members facilitates the development of social relationships. More specifically, offering practical assistance, sharing information and collaboratively solving problems are forms of behavior that can strengthen group unity and cohesion by enhancing social relationships.
Following questions address the conditions and potential for improving social relationships and team unity:
- Do we as a team or individual members have opportunities to interact on an informal level?
- Do members agree with and support the larger goals of the team?
- What aspect of our team’s culture are members uncomfortable with?
- How have we solved problems face to face and collaboratively in the past?
There are virtually no teams that function without any conflict. This is especially true as teams increase in individual or disciplinary diversity. Given that psycho-social research teams tend to be more diverse than the typical project team, conflict should be consider as a given.
While team conflict can be disastrous to the team process, it can also be an invaluable opportunity for team growth and creativity and should be seen as such. Although a positive approach to conflict may, more often than not, seem impossible, team members who can accurately assess the source and nature of the conflict can take steps to benefit from it. The following questions can help clarify a team’s approach to conflict resolution:
- How have we dealt with conflict in the past?
- Are there instances in the past where conflict should have been dealt with differently?
- Are team members generally conflict averse?
- What opportunities do we have to address disagreements?
Performance feedback refers to an ongoing process whereby teams and individuals are provided with feedback regarding their performance relative to specific goals. Relevant and accurate feedback helps a research team to evaluate their performance and make adjustments where needed. In order for individual team members to better understand their roles, and set personal goals aligned with project goals, performance feedback should be provided at regular intervals. The following questions can help teams assess the role of performance feedback in their current team process:
- Do we provide opportunities for either formal or informal performance feedback?
- What milestones in the lifetime of a project can we consider as opportunities for feedback?
- How do we assess our performance as a team and as individuals?
- Is performance feedback considered as being hierarchical and one directional?
- What opportunities do team members have to provide input regarding the team, or other members’ performance?
This post wraps up the ‘who’ of psycho-social research in architecture. In the next post will address the ‘when’ and how the research process can intersect with the design process.
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
WHO: Psychological research in architecture, Part 2