Gaining an Understanding of Collaboration through Analogous Research

Our team gained insight into how effective teams collaborate by making soup, doing improv, and watching an NHL hockey game.

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Analogous research is one way we can gain empathy by taking on another role for just a little while, and looking to help define something by honing in on the characteristics of it. Our team wanted to strengthen collaboration amongst our teammates. We pondered, "how might we embrace the richness of our collaborative team to drive teaching and learning forward?" We knew we needed to look outside of the field of education to answer this question. 

We considered all the examples we could think of where collaboration was a key methodology to the success of the group. We brainstormed a lot, and then refined our ideas from there. We considered the distinct activities we wanted to observe: risk-taking, trust, embracing ambiguity, constant feedback and checking of the pulse, a purpose and reason for collaboration. This helped us narrow down what our team should do. For our analogous research experience, we decided to cook together, do some improv theatre, and watch a Calgary Flames hockey practice.

We started by splitting the group up. We told a third to bring broth, a third to bring chopped veggies, and a third to bring a grain or pulse. When they arrived in the morning, we asked them to find some teammates to make a soup! That's all the instruction we gave them. They worked through which ingredients to add, what might taste good together, and how to create a delicious-tasting soup without a recipe. They made observations about how a kitchen is like a team. They noticed that they collaborate with others without having a prior plan, but they did have a purpose.

After we got our soup cooking, we welcomed a local actor to do some improv with us. We did common improv games like "Yes, let's!" where one person makes an offer, and then everyone else has to accept it with enthusiasm and yell "yes, let's!" In accepting their offer, we made our partners look good. What we noticed in improv was safe risk-taking, trusting one another, and how being a part of a team means lifting others up.

After improv, we carpooled to our nearby NHL hockey arena, where the Calgary Flames were in practice. We watched the players do drills, practicing the skills they would need in games. The players would do a drill for awhile, and then the coaches would call them over to explain something or give further instructions. We noticed that each player had a role in the success of the team. We noticed how the coaches operated, too, and thought about who might play the role of the coaches in an educational setting. 

When we returned, we gathered together to eat the fruits of our labour. In the ceremony of sharing a meal together, we discussed our morning. We were able to draw out all the qualities of effective collaboration from our analogous research. Though there are certainly many examples of incredible collaboration within educational settings, getting out of the familiar let us see many things we might have otherwise taken for granted. We heard repeatedly from our colleagues that the morning was incredibly valuable to them, and let them deeply notice what good collaboration means. Analogous research gave our team the insight we needed to define collaboration well. Now we can use this to make a stronger, more collaborative team. 

[Optional] Synthesize a little! What's one take away or insight to leave people with?

We learned more about collaboration by watching a hockey practice than we could have in a school building.

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