Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Peirce College’s Dr. Littlefield Publishes Research on Organic Collaborative Teams

Recently, Dr. Cathy Littlefield published an article in the International Journal of Doctoral Studies along with two colleagues titled, “Organic Collaborative Teams: The Role of Collaboration and Peer to Peer Support for Part-Time Doctoral Completion.”

Though the article was born out of their collaborative efforts while the three were completing their doctoral studies, the findings in the article have a much wider application for students at all levels of student populations (undergraduate and graduate), and can also be applied to collaborative teams in the workplace.

The research and experiences were a couple of years in the making. It started with Dr. Littlefield along with two other Doctoral candidates at Widener University, Laura M. Taddei and Meghan E. Radosh, were assigned a team project during one of their courses. After successfully completing the
Drs. Cathy Littlefield, Laura Taddei, and Megan Radosh
assignment, they would go on to have a few more classes together, collaborate to support each other on their doctoral comprehensive exams, and finally came together, voluntarily, as a self-identified team for their dissertations, even though their dissertations were on separate topics with separate timelines.

After successfully defending their dissertations, they realized there was something that made their collaboration so effective. They began researching and learned there was no terminology to capture the sum of factors that led to their successful collaboration, so they created the term “Organic Collaborative Teams.”

An Organic Collaborative Team, as they defined, is a "naturally formed dynamic peer to peer support group, built on individual strengths and differences, while focused on a common goal."

Their data revealed four themes that allowed them to formally define organic collaboration. Prior to the article, there was no published definition of such. Together, they conducted a qualitative narrative inquiry, and the data revealed the following themes:

Theme 1 - Common Goal: While peers may be joined initially by a short term common goal, continuation of the peer team may be continued with the identification of a long-range common goal.  In the case of Drs. Littlefield, Taddei, and Radosh, after completing the class project that initially brought them together, voluntarily remained connected as they progressed through the doctoral program with a new common goal of degree completion.

Theme 2 - Group Dynamics: An organic collaborative team must be respectful, creative, encouraging, and supportive.  While each member of the team is still an individual, there must be a mutual respect.  Each member must contribute fully and equally -- the absence of this balance could derail the team. 

Theme 3 - Peer to Peer Support: Peer to peer support is about providing support to your team.  This can be as simple as helping to clarify something, support and celebrate accomplishments, or even just listen when there is a need to vent.  As this relates to a learning environment, peer to peer support resembles a community of practice -- in which students are peers within a class, the goal is academic development, and students support each other academically.

Theme 4 - Intentional Relational Learning: Relational learning implies a reciprocal give and take of ideas.  This free-sharing environment leads to an environment that is mutually respectful, non-competitive, and supportive.  In the case of Drs. Littlefield, Taddei, and Radosh, they started as a team with one common goal, but as they developed into a stronger team, they purposely gathered for individual research while supporting each other on a grander scale.  In intentional relational learning, relationships are formed, which makes this more than a task-specific team.

The paper concludes by suggesting departments, faculty, and higher education in general has the ability to foster and encourage teams.  What may start as an initial team assignment or project, has the potential to grow into a stronger, organic collaborative team.  In order for this team to be true to the concept of an organic collaborative team, there must be a common purpose (or goal), amicable group dynamics, peer to peer support (that is encouraging and not competitive), and the creation of relationships via intentional relational learning.  

Congratulations Drs. Littlefield, Taddei, and Radosh on the collaborative completion of your doctoral degrees and the publication of this insightful research.