We recently had the opportunity to get our software development team together with our conservation planning and assessment team. The software team creates web applications to empower users to share, collaborate, and interpret geospatial data. The conservation planning team is based out of San Diego, and is rarely in the same location as our software team. They work in the field studying rare and invasive species, develop innovative regional approaches to managing rare species and conservation preserves, and are highly active within the local natural resource community. Our projects almost never overlap, though we are working to change that. Only a few of us have had the chance to work together across these two teams in the past, and many had not met each other before. This was a rare opportunity, and we only had an hour.
Our approach may be more broadly applicable. I hope that this is useful for you.
Two minute introductions
We started off with an icebreaker to help people get to know each other:
What is your workplace superpower? What is it that you can do — that you are capable of — that you are most proud of in your work?
Everyone had two minutes in which to scribble this down on a sticky note. Then we shared our superpowers with the group. There were resonant themes across the teams. I wish I would have had the foresight to collect these afterward; this is the sort of stuff you put on inspirational posters. Even though many of us are introverts, it felt like the similarities of our strengths immediately helped us feel more comfortable with each other.
Ten minute idea generation
Next, we created pairs with at least one person from each team, and tried to leverage the icebreaker directly into idea generation.
Come up with an idea about how you are going to combine your strengths to advance work that you are both doing right now.
Observing each of the groups, they spent the first few minutes getting to know each other better, and better understand each other’s work. Under ideal circumstances, we would have had more time for this. When they moved into idea generation, you could watch the energy in the room take off.
Half hour idea sharing and next steps
Once the ten minutes for idea generation were up, we circled everyone back up to share their ideas from the group. There was a little frustration that folks were just getting started with their ideas, and they wanted more time to dig in further. Having more ideas than time seems like a good problem to have.
Each pair shared their idea with the group, and we kept track of the core idea and immediate action items on the whiteboard. We had a few brief forays into expanding on some of those ideas as a group, but given the time constraints, needed to move on to the next idea. Each idea resulted in at least one immediate action item. For example, we decided to give a demo of a tool built by the software team to the conservation planning team. In other cases, we decided that we needed to have a separate conversation to strategize possible funding sources to explore the idea further.
Elements of success:
- Everyone was committed to participating together
- Participants were deeply familiar with the challenges present in their respective domains, and already had some ideas about how to overcome those challenges but no prior opportunity to share those ideas
- Hard time limits forced us to work fast, and focus on ideas that are smaller in scope and hopefully more achievable
This experience helped better socially integrate the two teams, and resulted in several good ideas with shared ownership between them. Many thanks to my colleagues who participated in this!