by Mary Schwarz, ICF Interactive
Interdisciplinary has always been one of those words that bothered me.
Not the actual intent of interdisciplinary – approaching work by involving practitioners from several areas of knowledge – but what it sounds like. So many ways to be disciplined or punished … will it be writing lines, scrubbing gum off of the bottom of desks, or some other penance to serve?
These ill placed fears aside, the frustration, isolation, and dissatisfaction that can accompany interdisciplinary work can be their own form of punishment. The inertia we may experience when working with others to reconcile perspectives can overwhelm and wrongly lead us to meet short term goals by staying in our own lane, falling back on known processes, and settling for good enough. Unfortunately, that just as often leaves us with bias, little innovation, and the acceptance of inbred errors that, because we only see from a single point of view, we are blind to.
So, how can we make interdisciplinary work less punishing?
- Set aside the importance of your own point of view. Doing this well will feel like all give and no take. As evangelists, we need our perspective to not only be represented but to shine through. We want the user experience to drive design, content to engage and delight, and meaningful interactivity. Otherwise, agile methodologies become too developer-centric, outreach plans focus on targets and goals while discounting the value of the experience, and content serves the user while ignoring business goals.
- Expect to see progress in inches. While your normal development cycle may include a series of set deliverables, an interdisciplinary work flow will be more iterative and less linear. Compared to what you are accustomed to experiencing, you may not see as much progress as when you work individually through an engagement. This is most true in the initial phases of a project. Yet, when the group’s progress comes together we can quickly go from inches to miles. You may see these “a-ha” moments at key milestone points, or sometimes even months after an engagement is completed.
- Know when to go off on your own, who to bring with you, and how to apply their perspective. Sometimes working with other teams keeps us from reaching our objectives. At these moments, it’s important when to recognize that things aren’t moving forward. However, this doesn’t mean going off alone-alone, it’s about who should come with you. As an expert, you need to continuously hone your craft, take care to not do this alone. As individual assignments are made, step back and take a critical look at yourself creating an inventory of your limitations, recognize where you need to be pushed, and bring in colleagues who will challenge your assumptions forcing you to see things differently.
Ultimately, what initially feels like punishment can actually produce better quality work than what we could produce single handedly, as we gain from the wide range of experiences and perspectives our colleagues bring. Clarifying roles, expectations, and desired outcomes ensures that all parties can fully contribute to the process, and projects can fulfill their potential.