“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
Working in multidisciplinary environments is something very valuable in today’s society, as such teamwork skills seem to be emphasized much more than before. Although teamwork may push us forward and improve our work, it doesn’t mean it’s always easy and smooth. That’s why I want to talk a little about our teamwork and some challenges we have faced during our work.
I didn’t know my teammates before the course. I had met Liz before on some occasions, but nothing more. So naturally, I was a little nervous in the beginning about how this would turn out. I mean, we were to work together for the whole spring and go to Mexico together for two weeks! Luckily, our team turned out to be great. We have had our bumps on the road, of course. One can’t expect to agree and be happy all the time within a team. Also, with three very different cultures, it takes time to understand each other, to get on the same page and find the common ground.
It hasn’t only been the three of us working on this project. In Mexico, we collaborated with the Instituto Tecnológico de Cancún (ITC). They are the link between us and Uxuxubí and made this collaboration possible. ITC has ongoing research in Uxuxubí and had visited the village many times before us. We are all very thankful for all they did for us during our stay, hosting us in Cancún, with both sleeping and working space, and making sure we had a great stay.
We had Skyped to Mexico before and thought we would be joined by the 10 students that participated in the meeting, but in the end we were joined by only four students. I actually think it was better this way, since working with a very big group can be difficult and time consuming, but it still came as a surprise for us. Another shocking experience was when one of our teammates left the course just before the field trip. It shook the team, as we had built up our team spirit with the four of us and now one pillar was gone. Not to mention it was our only designer… However we managed to move forward and are very lucky to have Liz on the team who has some design skills!
Our Mexican team members were all in their bachelor studies, and they hadn’t worked on this project as long as we had had before the field trip. We had done research and prepared for two months before going and slowly also familiarised ourselves with the human-centered design approach through which we are working. This meant that we were not quite on the same level when we all arrived in Uxuxubí. The fact that they hadn’t had the same preparation possibilities as us (one reason being their semester starts much later than ours) made the first days a bit heavy for everyone. Also, the language barrier didn’t make it easier, as there were varying levels of English skills on the team. However, as the week went on and we got to know each other better and learnt about each other’s skills, working as a group became smoother.
The fact that we had gone all the way to Mexico was huge for us. Going halfway around the world to work in an unfamiliar country, in a foreign culture and language, in a small Mayan village, was big and exciting! Doing a similar project in a town two hours from Helsinki would not have been the same. I think this fact made a difference in the perception of the project between the Aalto and ITC students. Moreover, we didn’t really know how they would be evaluated for the project, and I think this could have been good to know. This way, we would have better understood what they are working for and what their goal is and vice versa. As Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
For our team, success in this project meant to build trust among the inhabitants, to collect as much information as possible while in the field and to then synthesize the information in a way that it is useful for both the community and next year’s Aalto LAB Mexico group. If both we and the ITC team had clearly stated our aims and targets for the outcome of this year’s project in the beginning, I think we would have been able to better moved forward together.
Still, regardless of all the challenges I have pointed out here, we had a great time with our Mexican team! I’m very happy that we got to work with them, and I think we have all learned a lot about what it means to work in a multidisciplinary and multicultural group. It would not have been the same without them, we would not have learnt so much about the Mexican culture and we would not have been able to get as close with the community members as we did. Also, I’m glad to have made some new friends on the other side of the world through this project! After all, this is a part of the Aalto LAB Mexico’s Philein (Greek for friendship) projects, so in that aspect the project was a real success.