Conflicts with Communication // Nicole Bauknight
Written by Nicole Bauknight
"Conflicts with Communication"
Working on a team requires compromise and trust, two things our studio has become increasingly bad at throughout the year. Our problems are probably not uncommon to issues that typical teams face when being thrust together without consent; dysfunctionality, tension, stepping on each other’s toes. And a lot of these issues stem from how poorly our communication has become. We can’t articulate our frustrations or critiques in a constructive way. We lash out in anger. We have trouble confronting our authoritative figures when something is bothering us. We have yet to develop effective solutions, and we should, because without effective communication, things can deteriorate rapidly, people become defensive and things don’t get done.
In comparison to last semester, we have in a sense fallen off the wagon. But there are steps that we can take to fix our communication issues, both internal with each other and external with our client, professor and associated contacts. Overall we need to be honest with ourselves and the people we’re working with in order to round out the semester with the effective communication that we initially started with.
I’ve identified several problems that our studio is encountering this semester that is contributing to our communication struggles. The first one has been accumulating since last semester and has, on our part, been contributing to our lack of caring: our project doesn’t feel like an accumulation of our ideas and designs anymore. With any project, it changes quite a bit before it reaches its final implementation stage. But our project process has been influenced not only by ourselves, but has taken input from our client, various community members and El Dorado Architects, that has not lined up with what we think is necessary or appropriate. Our ideas are presented, discarded and then dug back up later on when they are deemed to be valuable again. We feel we are no longer in control of the process but rather puppets taking orders from others.
Abstract: There are differences between internal team communications and external client, community and contractor communications. This year has been particularly challenging in developing an effective team dialogue within our studio and there have been frustrations with communicating information to our prospective audiences. The successful moments don’t necessarily outweigh the failed ones, leading to questions about what does effective communication look like and why have we struggled with it so much.
Since the beginning, we have worked collectively without an alpha leadership role, which up until this point has not been a major issue. Now that things are starting to stall, no one wants to step up and be the so called hard ass on everyone. And no one cares enough to police the entire studio. Smaller leadership roles are filled effectively but we don’t have one person controlling all aspects of the studio. In previous Design+Make studios this person has been present. Does our teetering downfall connect back to our lack of filling this one role?
When any group of individuals is gathered together on a team to achieve one common goal, tension comes with unity. Our tension has increased while our unity decreased. As we have broken out into smaller teams within our studio, we have lost trust and constant communication among each other.
People will regularly work on things at the same time because either no one has communicated that they are doing that task, people don’t complete the tasks that are assigned or people aren’t trusting enough to hand the task off to someone else. This has created a mess of work overlap, verbal arguments and miscommunication on who is supposed to be doing what.
This year our client and contractor relationships have not been the strongest or the most operational. We have not proven that we can have effective conversations or relations with our client or contractor. Frustrations, on both sides, have arisen over design changes, construction strategies and aesthetic preferences. As designers we should be effectively persuading the people that we’re working with that our methods or design are the right direction and crafting a convincing story to help support our arguments.
With problems come potential solutions. We still have half a semester left to work on getting our communication skills back up and running. Some solutions will be harder than others just based on the conflicts we’re experiencing but the project won’t get done without us banding back together.
We need to be more forward with ourselves and with the people who are working on the project with us. It doesn’t do anyone good to harbor negative perspectives; instead we should offer critical thoughtful alternatives and work through disagreements together, as a team. Gaining trust back is going to take putting differences aside and deciding to allow people to make themselves valuable to the team again. We also need to work on crafting successful arguments and positions and then presenting them to our client, eliminating the stress between our preferred design orientations. Presenting successful arguments that are idea and story focused instead of plot summarizing will be a more effective way of gaining trust back from the individuals we are working with.
The goals that I have been trying to implement with the team are: making sure everyone knows what they are doing and why they are doing it. Letting the rest of the team know who is doing what so we eliminate the replication of work. Creating a more open dialogue environment where everyone can provide feedback but work towards the overall goals. Identifying sore spots where communication between individuals is lacking and working with them to fix that.
Our lack of communication has slowed us down and caused some serious damage to our prospects, our team and our functionality. We won’t have a project if we’re at each other throats and working in secret without including others in the process. Laying all our cards on the table and playing the game as a team with the goal of coming out on top will get the project done. Communicating ideas, gratitude and compromise to the other key players on the project will make us successful. But we have to make the first move, be the initiator because no one should want to finish the project more than us.