How to Form & Norm Great Project Teams: A hands-on workshop with David & Mary Sherwin

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by Kelly Kim, Product Design + Designmatters Concentration & Felix Hoyos, Product Design March 6, 2017

When we heard that Designmatters was hosting a workshop focusing on creating great teams, we expected to hear some advice, past experiences and “dos and don’ts” from professional designers.

However, How to Form & Norm Great Project Teams, led by David and Mary Sherwin, was very different. Instead of a long lecture, they divided up the 3-hour working into short sessions that taught us a set of collaborative tools to help us realize the impact of design thinking in every aspect of a project – as well as how to bring together effective teams.

The workshop was split into 3 specific team-building activities: Identifying Team Values and Behaviors, Who am I?, and Team Norms. After an ice-breaking exercise, we were randomly assigned into groups, we started with the first activity.

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Identifying Team Values and Behaviors

A list of descriptive words was handed to each of us in order to identify our own personal values in teamwork. Words like “rigor,” “transparency” and “visionary” were among the options. The goal of this activity was to choose 3 specific values and behaviors that describe them. We then shared our values and behaviors with our groups.

In comparing our values, choosing values like “professionalism” seemed effortless and obvious to some people. However, this is exactly where team members started to diverge from each other. The problem was a potential failure of vocabulary. Being professional might have an entirely different meaning for each person in the group. The Sherwins taught us the importance of creating behaviors for those values – and creating accountability for those values.

Who am I?

The second part of the workshop was the Who am I? activity. Each person wrote down on a piece of paper who they are, their skills and hobbies, as well as their work style and goals for this project. The purpose of this activity was get to know each person in the group, their preferred work style, their skills and talents, and what their intentions are with the project. This exercise opened the discussion within the team and helped us to easily transition into the next activity.

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Team Norms

In the third activity of the workshop, we developed team norms, which included time management in working in teams (i.e. when / how long we work together vs. individually), how we work in teams (in-person vs. online) and delegating elements of projects based on skill-sets.

When Steve Jobs was asked what he was most proud of at Apple, he stated: “The product I’m most proud of is Apple and the team I built at Apple.” In order to develop great projects, you need to have a great team. As creatives, we rarely communicate about our own working styles, values, and skills; we are mainly focused on the end result. When all team members spend good enough time to have a clear structure to perform in the team, they eliminate emotional conflict and get closer to the highest quality of work.

We truly are thankful to Designmatters and Mary & David Sherwin for helping us to realize the impact forming and norming great project teams.


Designmatters hosted David & Mary Sherwin in residence from February 6-9, 2017.

This opportunity was made possible in part by support from the Designmatters Educational Program Grant from the Autodesk Foundation.