The Team-Focused Instructional Designer
We often write about how to improve your skills as an instructional designer: finding inspiration, making narration effective, gamifying courses, treating designer’s block, and so on. But let’s talk about the bigger picture: understanding your role in a team.
In your career, you’ll work with many other people on building training programs. They’ll provide source materials, offer guidance, research topics, write scripts, develop storyboards, create graphics and animation, build slides, compile leave-behinds for classroom training, or test an online program on an LMS. (You may do some of these things yourself, or you’ll lead others who will do it.) Some will use their talents as actors, narrators, videographers and photographers. On each project, someone (maybe yourself) will form a team to generate the best training possible.
A team effort
What makes each person valuable is that they consider themselves as an essential part of a team. They keep their attention focused on a shared goal, and their efforts are always aimed in that direction. They frequently suggest ideas that make the training even better, and those ideas belong to the team.
The best people are team-focused; that is, an over-inflated ego or excessive self-importance doesn’t enter the picture. They know better not to jeopardize a project over personal frustration. So, even if they feel it inside, they don’t spend time being annoyed if their work is being revised, judged or criticized constructively. Instead:
They realize that their work can be questioned by anyone on the team without feeling that their expertise is at risk.
They appreciate the fact that they can sometimes give feedback on the work of other team members.
They do their best but expect revisions, rewrites or redesigns as a necessary part of the project.
They accept constructive criticism as a learning experience, grow from it and become better team members.
They take feedback in stride, and sometimes with humor.
If they receive no feedback, they’ll often ask for some.
They practice the philosophy in the quote (attributed to Albert Einstein): “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.”
Life out of balance
When our feelings get hurt from constructive criticism, we can forget what we need to learn. Usually, a suggestion is not personal or directed at our abilities—even if we think it is. But maybe we’ve gotten too close to the project or became overworked, so our perspective or even our life seems out of balance. Perhaps we’ve been using the same techniques over and over, not changing or improving them. Maybe we have a specific design strategy in mind and can’t imagine that a totally different one would prove even more engaging to the learner. So, we find it difficult to recognize that we must constantly expand our skills and be open to trying new ideas.
What can get back us on track? Among other things, we can temporarily step out of our role in the project, consider a suggestion on face value, look at it from another perspective, ask any clarifying questions, verify that we understand what’s being proposed, and finally take ownership of or buy into the idea. Other than that, we can rest, exercise, eat properly, maintain our relationships, have hobbies, and in general take better care of ourselves.
Who owns the course? Of course, it's... When a team is assembled, no single individual should expect being given an overwhelming importance over others. It’s the team and the project that matter. Successful team members on a project know who the course belongs to.
If you’re an instructional designer at a company developing training program for employees, it’s your company’s course.
If you’re developing training for a client, it’s your client’s course.
If you’re a contractor for a project, it’s your client’s course, or perhaps their client’s course.
So, it’s not your course. But whose course is it, anyway? Although it may be the property of the company who presents it to their employees, customers or members, any course really belongs to the learner. Your team’s efforts must be in the service of others: getting them to perform more efficiently and effectively at their jobs, learn essential knowledge, erase mistakes and misconceptions, and become safer at what they do.
One instructional designer alone can’t make these things happen, but a team surely can. That’s why there’s no better place to be than as part of a team.