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Nurturing Interdisciplinary Teams in the Workplace.

Strategies for Creating a Collaborative, Learning-Oriented, and Results-Driven Environment.

Businesses today operate in an increasingly complex environment, where customer expectations constantly change, and technological advancements disrupt traditional business models. To stay competitive, companies must be agile, innovative, and able to adapt quickly to changing market conditions. 

One way to achieve this is through an interdisciplinary approach to collaboration. 

Interdisciplinary Design.

Let’s start by talking about design.

Design can take many forms and purposes: from products and services to strategies, systems, environments, and experiences. Combining creative and strategic thinking with problem-solving, design is the key to shaping this world according to human needs and desires. 

However, design is not a solitary or isolated endeavor: it almost always requires working with people from different fields and diverse areas of expertise. The key to great design (as well as strategy or development) is to facilitate collaboration between interdisciplinary or cross-functional teams so that different perspectives and skills are integrated into the process.

The term interdisciplinary, in any context, implies a connection between different disciplines. So, interdisciplinary collaboration can be defined as a way of doing things that goes beyond the boundaries of traditional areas of work by fostering partnerships among diverse stakeholders. Interdisciplinary collaboration can lead to more innovative and human-centered design solutions and better communication and understanding among stakeholders.

One of the best resources on human-centered design is IDEO’s HCD Toolkit. It was developed by an interdisciplinary team that synthesized knowledge from various fields, including anthropology, psychology, sociology, business, and technology, to create a practical guide for designing solutions for social challenges.

The Power of Diversity.

Interdisciplinary teams are typically made up of individuals with diverse skill sets and expertise who come together to work on a common goal or project. In doing so, teams can integrate a wide range of perspectives and skills into their workflow. 

At Mäd, we also value people with skills from multiple disciplines. We often call such individuals the 'M-shaped person' — someone who demonstrates a multi-skill profile with the ability to apply deep knowledge across various situations and areas of expertise.

That being said, bringing together ideas and skills from different disciplines can be endlessly beneficial for thoughtful strategy and well-rounded solutions. It’s not only a matter of teamwork — which is already a great way of enhancing both innovation and efficiency — but also of having access to different ways of thinking and doing things. This is how organizations can solve problems and create value, regardless of their industry.

These are just some advantages for businesses that are run by interdisciplinary teams: 

  • Creativity and perspective. Interdisciplinary teams allow businesses to break out of their silos and see problems from multiple angles. By bringing together individuals with different ways of thinking, doing, and knowing, business leaders and stakeholders can identify blind spots and potential solutions that were otherwise missed.
  • Open communication and collaboration. Working with diverse teams promotes a culture of collaboration and open communication. By empowering and partnering up with individuals from different fields, businesses can build trust and respect for each other's expertise, leading to more effective and efficient project outcomes.
  • Growth and adaptation. Interdisciplinary teams can keep businesses agile and competitive by staying ahead of technological advancements and adapting to changing customer expectations. Collaborating with professionals from various fields also allows companies to efficiently follow the latest trends and innovations, ensuring their solutions remain relevant and effective.
  • Human-centered solutions. An interdisciplinary approach can help businesses better address customer needs by involving diverse users and other stakeholders in the process and even co-creating with them. It can also enable companies to create more value by delivering solutions that have larger-scale positive impacts on society, the economy, the environment, and culture. 

Compromise to Collaborate.

Of course, working with interdisciplinary teams is not without its challenges. It can be difficult to align different perspectives and goals, and communication can sometimes be a barrier. However, by setting clear expectations and establishing a shared vision for the project, these challenges can be overcome.

Some potential obstacles to interdisciplinary collaboration include:

  1. Differences in expectations. Conflicts or misunderstandings can arise when team members or stakeholders have varying expectations about the project, such as prioritizing creativity over feasibility or valuing aesthetics over functionality. To mitigate these challenges, teams should establish common goals, roles, and responsibilities for the team.
  2. Language barriers. Different disciplines often use different jargon, acronyms, and terminology, which can create confusion and misunderstandings when communicating with other team members or stakeholders. It’s important to use simple and clear language that everyone can understand and to avoid ambiguity or assumptions. 
  3. Diverse cultures. Interdisciplinary teams may encounter blocks when individuals' different backgrounds and perspectives influence their attitudes and behaviors. For instance, people could have varying work approaches, time management styles, or ethical principles. So, creating an inclusive, supportive environment that values diversity is crucial to promote trust, openness, and mutual learning.
  4. Unfamiliar methods and tools. It should be expected that mixed teams may often use different approaches and incompatible tools, which can impede collaboration. To address this, it can be helpful for team members to share and demonstrate their methods and technologies, and provide any necessary training or support. It's essential to understand the strengths and limitations of each approach and choose the most suitable one for each case — or even combine and integrate different methods!

Cultivating Interdisciplinary Collaboration.

Here are some things that can help nurture an interdisciplinary team in your own workplace: 

  • Environment. Create an environment that’s conducive to collaboration, communication, and creativity. This could be done by setting up physical spaces and online platforms that encourage interaction and build a climate of trust, respect, and diversity.
  • Learning. Encourage learning about each other's disciplines, methods, and tools through workshops, courses, and mentoring programs. Additionally, provide opportunities for team members to share experiences, insights, and feedback through brainstorming sessions and reflection activities.
  • Feedback. Soliciting and providing feedback on both the process and outcomes can be constructive for an interdisciplinary team. Make sure that feedback is incorporated appropriately by refining and improving the workflow.
  • Evaluation. Don’t forget to assess your interdisciplinary teams by measuring and communicating the outcomes and impacts of their work. This might involve analyzing the criteria and indicators for quality and effectiveness from different perspectives, as well as showcasing the results to customers and stakeholders.

Final Thoughts.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is an ideal approach to tackling complex and multifaceted problems that require diverse expertise, perspectives, and resources. While it may pose unique challenges, it can also enable businesses to leverage diversity and create innovative solutions that meet their clients’ needs.

The success of interdisciplinary collaboration ultimately depends on the willingness and commitment of team members and stakeholders to embrace diversity, communicate effectively, and work towards a common goal. If you’re unable to build an in-house interdisciplinary team for various reasons, consider outsourcing certain tasks or projects.

Our approach.

At Mäd, our team is full of M-shaped people (obviously). But we’ve also found a way to enhance our capabilities beyond our internal team by building the Mäd Expert Database. 

Our new initiative seeks talented individuals to join a roster of independent, international experts to support our growing demand from leading international organizations. This will allow us to bring in additional talent and expertise when we need to deal with complex problems or enhance our clients’ projects. Additionally, it can help us to provide clients with a more comprehensive and integrated approach to digital transformation, drawing on knowledge from a wide range of industries.

We’re optimistic that this initiative will help us expand our abilities and attract diverse projects and opportunities to compete on the global stage.

If you or someone you know might be a great fit, or if you’re interested in pursuing innovation to enhance your company’s strategy and improve operational excellence, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at hi@mad.co.

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