Work life representation at the Its21 Conference

Collaboration between work life and higher education is important in developing good interdisciplinary teamwork skills. But how can it be solved, and what’s in it for the companies?

By Vilde Øines Nybakken

Not only are the different Scandinavian countries represented amongst the participants at the 4th Its21 Conference, the business and public sector are also represented, through Trøndelag fylkeskommune, TrønderEnergi, and Kantega, to mention a few. Thereby a work life perspective on the conference theme is brought to the table. 31 organisations and companies were represented. 14 universities and 17 companies, municipality and county.

Amongst the participants from the business and industry is Håkon Andreassen from BaneNOR. Andreassen is presenting BaneNOR and Jernbanedirektoratets’ thoughts on collaborating with NTNU at the parallel sessions during the Its21 Conference. He finds attending the conference valuable and inspiring. “The conference has been very interesting. I’ve spoken to many different people who work with and develop interdisciplinary teamwork skills”, says Andreassen.

He especially enjoyed hearing the thoughts and ideas of the Danish participants from Business Academy Aarhus. “They had an interesting way of thinking. They approach the problems differently than we do. It’s not that we think that differently, though, it’s just different nuances of how to approach problems and how we think of solving them. I found it exciting to get new inputs on that matter”, Andreassen says.

The atmosphere at the 4th Its21 Conference were buzzing: Interdisciplinary teamwork skills for the 21st century

Investing competence and experience in higher education

Andreassen is probably especially engaged in the collaboration between higher education and work life because he himself is affiliated with Experts in Teamwork at NTNU and is leading one of the Expert in Teamwork villages.

Both during our chat and his presentation in the parallel sessions, he emphasized the value of cooperating with higher education, and why BaneNOR invest in educations, like Experts in Teamwork. “We initiated the push from work life on academia, and the need for students having better interdisciplinary teamwork skills when they graduate. We experienced recruiting competent experts form different fields, but with moderate teamwork skills. We’ve been aboard from the beginning with Experts in Teamwork”.

According to Andreassen, it’s important to being able to lift ones eyes and seeing the bigger picture. “We need more students with the ability to look outside their own discipline, and seeing the connection to other disciplines. What the students gain from the course and bring into our organisation is significant for us. That’s why we want to contribute, giving the students competence and experience through Experts in Teamwork”, Andreassen explains.

The investment of competence and experience from organisations like BaneNOR, gives companies future coworkers with improved interdisciplinary skills.

Challenging the established and saving millions

In Experts in Teamwork, students are divided into different classes, called “villages”, with 20-30 students. From the very beginning of Experts in Teamwork, there has been a “railroad village”. Andreassen is the “village leader”, and this year’s railroad village focused on how to get a more punctual and efficient railroad in Norway.

“It’s really useful for us. First of all, many projects in the village are suggested by BaneNOR. It can be both old and new projects that we want to get fresh perspectives on, with new technology and updated knowledge from someone bold enough to think outside the box”, Andreassen explains. “Second of all, many of the projects the students take on, give us important information, and result in us developing new products, organisational changes. Last but not least, it has saved BaneNOR a lot of money”, according to Andreassen. “Some projects have created a spin off effect in our organisation, and led to us saving tens of millions”. Andreassen thinks the reason why the interdisciplinary student teams bring such valuable and innovative results, is because they dare to challenge the established.

The students aren’t tied to rules and legislation, culture, established norms and so on. They dare to challenge aspects to our organisation that we wouldn’t have the time or resources to challenge ourselves. Having a group to look into these projects over time, to take the first steps, is of great significance to us

There were ceveral parallel sessions where the participants shared experiences and inspired each other. Here: Thorild E. Torgersen from Design Region Bergen and Bente Irminger from the University of Bergen’s presentation “Design Thinking, from theory to practice”.
There were several parallel sessions where the participants shared experiences and inspired each other. Here: Thorild E. Torgersen from Design Region Bergen and Bente Irminger from the University of Bergen’s presentation “Design Thinking, from theory to practice”.

Interdisciplinary teamwork skills in multidisciplinary projects

BaneNOR’s rich collaboration with the academia and the students through Experts in Teamwork are just one example of what possibilities and value Expert in Teamwork can bring not only to the students, but also to the work life, business and industry. And this is of great interest for the audience at Andreassen’s presentation «BaneNOR and Experts in Teamwork – What’s in it for us?».

Judging by the engaged questions from participants from other Norwegian and Scandinavian universities, it’s clearly a great interest in how a collaboration like this can be applied. “Most of us know something about trains, but what most of us don’t know, is the complexity that comes with a running railroad system”, Andreassen says, and explains the complexity of building and running a railroad.

The Norwegian railroad carries 73,7 million passengers a year. Keeping up a well-functioning railroad system demands a huge number of roles, and a lot of teamwork. On Andreassens illustrating slide, one could count about 28 different roles – for one project. The work processes are large, time consuming and complex.

Only by looking at the illustrating slide, one gets an understanding of why interdisciplinary team working skills are of such great value for an organisation such as BaneNOR. Andreassen’s presentation also illustrates the value of discussing key issues related to how skills in interdisciplinary teamwork and innovation can be developed.

Hopefully, the Its21 Conference has been a meeting place for discussing these issues across different backgrounds, and given the participants new insights and ideas to bring back home and put into action, and thereby nourish new insights and ideas for interdisciplinary teamwork to meet the future.

Håkon Andreassen from BaneNOR at the parallel session “Collaboration between higher education and work life”.
Håkon Andreassen from BaneNOR at the parallel session “Collaboration between higher education and work life”.