Interdisciplinary teamwork skills for the 21st century

Improv, design thinking and panel discussion are just a few things engaging the participants at the 4th Its21 Conference.

By Vilde Øines Nybakken

Registration has just opened. It’s early in the morning, but one can hear an expectant buzz from the participants in the aula at Trondheim Business School. People are engaged in conversations about interdisciplinary teamwork and sharing experiences already, and seem eager to get started. One of them is Senior Consultant Lea Sørensen from Business Academy Aarhus. She is looking forward to learning more about how NTNU carries out Experts in Teamwork in such a large institution. Not only is Experts in Teamwork an interdisciplinary course for students; even arranging the course can be called an interdisciplinary teamwork itself between the many faculties at NTNU. – Aarhus is not as big as NTNU, but we still find it difficult to organize something like Experts in Teamwork. I’m looking forward to learning about NTNU’s experience in organizing the course and how they succeed, Sørensen says.  

She emphasizes the value of the facilitation part of interdisciplinary teamwork. According to Sørensen, NTNU’s way of doing it is different from Aarhus. While Experts in Teamwork use student assistants as facilitators, it is the educators who facilitate the teamwork in Aarhus. Sørensen, together with Susanne Ø. Olsen and Mette R. Olsen (also from Business Academy Aarhus), presented an experience report on findings from Experts in Team 2017 at Business Academy Aarhus during the conference. Read about what makes Experts in Teamwork so valuable: The NTNU signature course

Eager participants

At a table nearby the registration area, an interdisciplinary conversation is already taking place. The three women at the table, from Campus Varberg in Sweden, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in Bergen and The Arctic University of Norway, are excited to be at the conference. They are looking forward to meeting the other participants and learning about others’ experiences – valuable insights to bring back home. – We are here with open minds, they say, eager to gain new insights on working with interdisciplinary teamwork skills. One of them, associate professor Anita Iversen from the faculty of Health Sciences at The Arctic University of Norway, has travelled from Tromsø to attend the Its21 Conference for the very first time. Iversen is excited to be here. – I don’t get why I haven’t been here before, she says with a smile, adding that she looks forward to learning about others’ experiences with interdisciplinary teams and activities from other areas than the health sciences.

Thank you all for participating on Its21! For those who were there and for those who couldn't make it: here's a 3 minute snapshot!

Publisert av Eksperter i team ved NTNU Fredag 22. juni 2018

A valuable meeting place

When asked what they especially want to learn more about during the conference, Expert in Teamwork’s facilitating expertise is mentioned at the table. – Expert in Teamworks are good at facilitation. They all agree that the Its21 Conference is a valuable meeting place. – This is an important meeting place, especially for us, with a special interest in lifelong learning. According to Iversen, the Conference has been informative even before the first day has begun. – Yesterday I learned a new term; intrapreneurship. It’s about innovation internally in one’s own organization, Iversen explains. The two others jots down the term, before eagerly rushing into the auditorium for the first plenary session of the conference, too fast for us to get to take their picture. Its21 had several participants from the business sector, municipality and county municipality, in addition to academic participants: Work life representation at the Its21 Conference

– Do we face a new challenge in the university education?

After welcoming words from dean of Faculty of Economics and Management Monica Rolfsen at NTNU, keynote speaker project director at SINTEF Raufoss Manufacturing, Ottar Henriksen, spoke to the participants about the role of interdisciplinary collaboration in a world of enabling technologies and big societal challenges. According to Henriksen, the combination of globalization, new enabling technology and societal challenges, requires a link between research, development and operations, more interdisciplinary teamwork, also across the different value streams, and a closer cooperation between university and vocational educated people. He also addressed the importance of interdisciplinary teamwork to reach UN’s sustainability goals.

Henriksen ended his presentation by asking the audience: – Do we face a new challenge in the university education? Maybe. Later on, in the panel discussion «Interdisciplinary teamwork: why (not)?!», Henriksen again emphasized the value and importance of cooperation between academic and vocational training to get a successful interdisciplinary team in working life. Psychological challenges in interdisciplinary cooperation were one of the interesting themes discussed. – People often seek interdisciplinary teamwork because they have the impression that it would be easy, Lise Lyngsnes Randeberg from Tekna stated. In reality, it’s the opposite. To be interdisciplinary, you first need to be disciplinary. – In an interdisciplinary team you are the only expert in your field. That carries a huge responsibility into the group.

The participants engaged in a panel discussion. (Photo: Christoffer Jellum)
The participants engaged in a panel discussion. (Photo: Christoffer Jellum)

Non-traditional approaches to interdisciplinary work skills

The participants are working in three parallel workshops both days. “Applications for self-organizing teams and organizations”, “Design thinking” and “Skills you need to succeed with interdisciplinary work” were the workshops on the first conference day. The workshops are clearly engaging the participants; one can hear the laughing and engaged buzzing from the workshops even with the doors closed. Outside the Design Thinking workshop, we bump into Iversen again. It seems that the expectations from this morning are being fulfilled. – We are having so much fun. There’s a lot to learn and bring back home. A lot!

The enthusiasm for the workshop is shared by other participants. Maiken Spjelkevik and Gunhild Roan from NTNU are attending the workshop “Skills you need to succeed with interdisciplinary work”. The workshop offers training and tools to ensure the possibility of a successful interdisciplinary work, and is lead by Bogdan Glogovac from Ducky and Kristoffer Nergård. Both Glogovac and Nergård is a part of Gibberish improv theatre. Spjelkevik and Roan enjoys the non traditional approach of the workshop. – We have gotten an introduction to improv and how to use it in interdisciplinary teamwork. The workshop challenges us in different exercises, for instance one where we have to observe the person in front of us and their motions to prepare and coordinate or own motion, Spjelkevik and Roan explain. – By linking these exercises to training the ability to listen to others, it also makes a clear link to how to work with people from other fields of study, people who think differently than oneself. That way, the workshop links perfectly to the theme of the conference. We haven’t had one boring moment! They are not the only ones having fun, gaining and sharing insights, ideas and experiences. The participants at the 4th Its21 Conference all seem inspired, engaged and eager to take their new knowledge and putting it into action back home. As we leave Trondheim Business School, we’re sure that the work done at the Its21 Conference will inspire and educate students about interdisciplinary teamwork skills in better ways in the future.

Maiken Spjelkevik and Gunhild Roan from NTNU enjoyed the improv workshop.
Maiken Spjelkevik and Gunhild Roan from NTNU enjoyed the improv workshop.