INTERPERSONAL: Interact effectively with others as peers, subordinates and leaders to accomplish goals

artifact: (edtec 684) RFP Project Proposal • Partner Up

Context

Project Management is Messy! That was Professor Jim Marshall’s introductory statement the first day of Edtec 684, Management of Educational Technology. He went on to say some very encouraging things about project management as well, but that one has remained ingrained in my memory. In retrospect it was a fair introduction to a challenging course from a real-world perspective. And if there were any skeptics at that point, the semester-long project he described shortly thereafter probably convinced them otherwise. He divided the class into groups of five and tasked us to form fictional Instructional Design consulting groups and work as teams throughout the semester on a single project. In this capacity, our charge was to respond to a real-world Request for Proposal and compete with the other student firms to win a contract to develop an instructional program on behalf of the Partnership for a Nation of Learners (“PNL”).

PNL is a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to develop partnership programs within the non-profit community. Given a series of guidelines, a half-million dollar budget, and general timeline our groups delivered a comprehensive report and presentation detailing the design, production, piloting, implementation and budgetary breakdown for an instructional program on a national scale. As students, we were to assume roles of Project Manager, Instructional Designer and Graphic Artist, adhere to project-management best practices, and incorporate tools native to the profession. The process and product of this project represent my Interpersonal Artifact.

Challenges and Opportunities

By design, group projects pose an inherent challenge to the distance learner; we are at the mercy of web-based technology for all form of communication, collaboration and shared information. Our group was comprised of Jack Bosley, Luis Tazoe, Lana Dabboussy, Avanelle Joseph Edwards and myself. We were five students, native to four languages, living in three countries, stretched over multiple time-zones – spanning a 10 hour difference. Add to that an electricity crisis and political upheaval in one of these locations, the random infant crying in the background at a few others, and a seemingly unsolvable scheduling conflict (see graphic) and you have the makings of what we appropriately named our group, Global 5.

There were challenges. It took us a couple of re-reads of the RFP before our group could agree on several of the meanings and details of the proposal. Our assigned Adobe online meeting room didn’t allow all of us to converse for some reasons and we had to abandon it for Skype, where we forfeited shared visual environment and experienced repeated issues archiving our meetings. And while two members of the group had been designated duties by Professor Marshall our roles within the group really remained undefined.

Our first major deliverable was to present a draft of a report on our proposal. Given the difficulties of coordinating meetings we decided to divide sections among us and author them independently. Our timeline was short and apparently none of us had really considered the variety of writing styles within our group. I stayed up into mid-morning the day the draft was due trying to conform five very different sections into something that flowed logically while still maintaining, what I could only assume at times, was the intent of each author. The results were not good and we were all humbled by the remarks when the draft was returned. It was the first time in the Edtec program that I felt I didn’t have control over the quality of the work being submitted with my name on it. And while I had no reason to think I was the only one who felt that way, I also had this feeling I was going to have to impose my will to ensure this didn’t happen again. As a group we discussed alternative approaches to working, but these discussions would get side-tracked by content issues or technical problems. We all agreed we needed a better system of communication but a variety of obstacles, including summer plans, detracted from continuity. We continued to struggle with communication, our schedules and our undefined roles within the group.

There were opportunities. While there were differences in our demographics we were still five students with five separate personalities that might also have grown up three blocks away from each other and still have struggled with these issues. There were talkers and there were listeners. We had a major worrier and an unflappable. We had idea people and practical folk. Some spoke spontaneously off the top of their head, and others considered their words carefully. At times it took great patience to get through our meetings. A member once voiced an opinion on a sample asset that we were considering, that was perceived as a slight by the member who had designed it. A colleague’s repeated concerns may have come across as whining. While another’s diligent attention to deadlines might have sounded a bit like nagging on more than one occasion. I happened to be one of the “talkers” and there were those rambling moments I sensed several group members were silently screaming “Shut Up Justin!”

But as pressure rises from within, it usually releases as well. As tensions began to surface so did members' personalities, and remained there once things settled. It was a bit easier to see everyone on a more “interpersonal” level, and an interesting shift began to take place. Communication began to loosen, become more precise, less cautious or clumsy. I myself made an effort to assist someone with a tedious chore after I’d felt I’d been curt with them earlier in a meeting. The individual who had been originally “assigned” as leader stepped up to moderate our online communications and figured out how to archive our sessions. Another began organizing the tasks they had been talking about in such detail by sharing their notes which gave greater structure and shared common vision to each session, and defined agendas clearly. I assumed the role of session facilitator.

Lessons

I’d made reference earlier to the process and product of this project as an artifact. Any combination of sections of this report could be extracted to represent interpersonal competencies of each member of Global 5. I believe there also exists somewhere, an archive of our excellent branded online presentation to our instructor and entire class that contains equally valid representations. But the most significant interpersonal lesson that I can draw from this artifact requires a bit of exposition to be fully appreciated.

As we defined our roles within our group we defined ourselves for our team members as well, exposing both our strengths and, for lack of a better term, weaknesses. One member of our group (we'll call this person "Member X"), was exceptionally gifted artistically. Member X's aesthetic and design skills were evident in every segment of the project they worked on, and received immediate praise from the instructor the moment our presentation appeared on the screen. Harkening back to my earlier comments on group dynamics, this individual might also have been considered one of the listeners; quieter shy, perhaps less confident in that aspect of their personality. During the planning phases of the project, Professor Marshall informed our groups that when it came time for planning our presentation, it was not required that every group member participate in the live presentation; that it was fine and sometimes easier, to have two or even just one narrate. Member X quickly shared their relief with us on that. This would not be an issue, we had a few “talkers” amongst us who were willing to bare that load. When we finally held our planning session several weeks later, Member X quietly listened, when we referenced an element in the presentation that X had worked on, X responded. “You know what, I will speak to that issue. I’ll contribute my part.”

We were all silent for a moment. There was never any question of Member X's contribution. X bore the majority of the art, design and assets, plus an equitable share of content and all the other pieces. We all knew that, as did X. This was not another contribution, it was more like a sacrifice. We didn’t need another voice, but we all happily accepted the offer. For the first time it felt like all 5 of us were in the same room. We’d overcome that last challenge in one space.