Growing a team culture for collaboration

I always ask myself the question… Are you sure you need to spend so much time on this section?

The Design/Engage workshop is based on the idea: Design <insert> to engage <insert>. For example:

Design professional learning to
Engage teachers

Design strategy to
Engage your team

Design a presentation to
Engage your audience

And of course,

Design learning to
Engage students.

Whatever the starting point may be, the process is primarily focused on collaborating for a significant purpose. When I present this workshop I reinforce the idea that collaboration is a democratic activity, and a tool like Design/Engage, is a way to enable each voice around the table to be heard. I’m sure we have all had the experience of a group of people engaged in a planning exercise, where just one or two seem to be shaping the narrative, and like me, you know that the quietest person in the group probably has the gold, if only she would have the opportunity to get a word in edgeways!

This gets back to that question, and a glimpse at my internal dialogue. When I’m planning the workshop, whether it be for a few hours or a couple of days, I keep checking myself about the time spent on team empathy. If this is about designing learning, then why don’t we get on with it? But I know, that great collaboration needs time spent on growing the team’s interpersonal connection. This can make the difference between a group of people and a high functioning team.

Katzenbach & Smith in their 1993 HBR article “The Discipline of Teams” make the distinction between a ‘Working Group’ and a ‘Team’


The process from group to team works in parallel to growing collaboration. There is a significant shift from hearing about your colleague’s ideas to a collective responsibility for learning. That is why the Team Board is so critical to the Design/Engage process and why it requires a good chunk of time to connect the team.Slide2

To grow empathy, “You get a second chance at a first impression”. Perhaps this has happened:

I have become stuck in a role or persona that is not actually who I am

Our team has slipped into bad habits and we don’t know how to work our way out.

Click ‘Refresh’

The team connection process looks at both of these – individuals can get a new start and team dynamics can have a refresh. And, yes, it involves butchers paper and Post-it/Sticky notes.

Here’s how to start: Individual reflection and respectful sharingfile_000-45.jpeg

Start with me: What do you need to know about me?

Something I would like you to know about me…

I am passionate about…

To start my day well I need…

I am frustrated when…

The best way to communicate with me is…

I am keen to grow in this area…

Then each person is given a timed opportunity to share(perhaps 3 minutes). While each in the group have experienced the intimacy of the verbal sharing, they then come up with a fun descriptor of each person that you can add to the Team Board.

Now the team. How will we:file_000-46.jpeg

Work together

Make decisions


Share information

Support each other


Start with ‘Work together’ and see what people have come up with to create an agreed statement for each. Then work through the other points.

Download this resource for more information: Grow Your Team

They say you only get one shot at a first impression, but we can’t grow our team and gain empathy with each member if we are stuck here. This approach requires us having an open mind toward our co-workers, seeing them with fresh eyes, accepting them for who they are and appreciating their contribution.


Katzenbach & Smith (1993), ‘The discipline of teams’, HBR 83 (7/8) March-April, 162-71
Meirink, Imants, Meijer & Verloop (2010) Teacher learning and collaboration in innovative teams, Cambridge Journal of Education, 40:2, 161-181



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