Cultivating Effective Partnerships: Increasing Awareness and Transparency in Collaboration

Concurrent Session 10

Brief Abstract

Working well with others is important. We have developed a 3-section tool that helps build one’s self-awareness and increases transparency towards their partners’ working preferences, needs, and desires allowing for a more authentic and effective partnership, as well as thoughtful pair planning by managers at the macro level.


Justin Lee is the Innovation Design Lead and Lead Media Designer at Capella University where he partners with school leadership and faculty and the product development teams, acting as a conduit for engaging, effective academic media strategy and direction. With nearly two decades of experience as a graphic and web designer, and as a self-proclaimed experimenter, stretching his creative muscles and trying new things is common place for him. Justin has presented and led numerous innovation workshops, including previous OLC Innovate conferences, MinneWebCon, Games+Learning+Society Conference, and DevLearn.

Extended Abstract

Working well with others is important. This is not terribly hard if you all think alike and have shared expectations and norms, but when there are different roles, different expertise, and varying responsibilities, it can certainly be a struggle. Finding the balance between different roles and responsibilities can really make a difference and drive greater efficacy, which ultimately results in a better product.  And that is the very thing we are now working on with this project. But first a little project history and set up.


Project Setup

At Capella in our Curriculum and Course Development team, we currently use three collaboration models our Instructional Designers (IDs) and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) employ: the interview model, the new one on the block where the ID writes the content based on conversations with the SME and uses an agile development process; faculty-authored model, the legacy and lesser-used one where the SME solely writes the content; and a hybrid “traditional” model, the one that we use 90% of the time where the writing is a joint collaboration between ID & SME.  Our initial intent with this project was to research and explore different collaboration or working models from throughout higher education or other industries that could inspire revisions to our existing models or we could implement as-is.  

During our first couple meetings it became apparent that the actual model (the steps and processes) didn’t matter quite as much as how these paired individuals from different roles with different work cultures (and might as well be from different worlds) actually did their work together.  It was this realization that set us on the path towards identifying what key traits and qualities are part of great collaboration, identifying how to facilitate and foster an ongoing positive working relationship, and anticipating any eventual roadblocks.


The Tool (example inventory available by request)

Through searching the literature on collaboration and partnerships, and exploring our own internal knowledge, behaviors, and traits needed for success, we developed a relatively simple 3-part inventory directly geared toward each role.

Section 1 is a customized 6-question Working Preference assessment (based on the Social Styles Model by David Merrill) that helps build self-awareness of how one prefers to work with others.

Section 2 is a self-diagnostic matrix that captures two points of data (desired level of contribution and desired level of support) among 6-8 partnership-relevant topics.

Section 3 consists of a detailed description of the three existing collaboration models, including how the results of the previous sections can help determine the “best” working model for the individual and allows them to self-select and provide some qualitative feedback and reasoning for their choice.  Individuals are then meant to reflect and debrief with their people leader.



The benefits of this inventory are multiple and occur at different times in the process:

  • Early on, Faculty leadership can work with Course Development leadership to identify and assign ideal SME/ID pairings.
  • After the pairings, SMEs and IDs can review the inventory results of their partner to get a glimpse of the preferences, needs, and desires of their partner. This is then openly discussed and further validated during the first meeting between the pair.  The ways that the pair will work together are agreed upon, including the setting of accurate expectations and what their partnership norms will be. 
  • During the ongoing course development process, knowing the preferences, needs, and desires of the other can assist in identifying possible roadblocks before they happen and help plan to overcome them.

Prior to this partnership inventory, the above information would sometimes come out organically over the course of the first few weeks of meetings during the process, but it was very ad hoc and based on the sometimes inaccurate assumptions of each of the pair for the other—it didn’t produce any transparency, thoughtfulness, or proactivity to the process.  This new partnership tool does just that.


Pilot and Testing

We successfully piloted this inventory tool with about a dozen select SME/ID pairings in August during Quarter 3 course development and have extended our second round of pilot testing in Quarter 4 course development with a larger population, including more school participation and more robust feedback measurements.  We plan to have an even larger rollout of this in Quarter 1 2018 and will have much more data than we have at this very moment to share.



Our desire for this presentation is to talk about how we had noble goals initially with the exploring of different models, but that there is a need to get to the root of the behaviors and build up from there.  We also want to highlight that though we focus on the collaboration and partnership between our IDs and SMEs, this approach and parts of the inventory can have greater applicability with any groups or teams working together.  Therefore this presentation definitely can apply to all attendees with little to no prior knowledge.

We know that the best presentations are ones that break down the items into simple digestible pieces and allow the chance to play with the concepts. So, beyond just showing them what we created, we’d like to incorporate activities where they can take our approach and tailor it to a partnership need that they might have at their own organization.  Additionally, we’d like to take a moment to have the attendees complete a generalized version of Section 1 and reflect on what that means and how that might have effected how they partner with others and what they can do to better those partnerships.

We have also been toying with the idea of creating a generic persona (the “everyday” person in a higher education organization) and walk through some struggles they might run into and how this tool (or it’s parts) could help them—illustrate real world benefits that they might see versus just telling the audience them.