Charette Observation: Politics

If the subject of the charette is not the design proposal that emerges, but the practice of teamwork, what is the appropriate method of analysis?
The end of charette this week disappeared- from the observer’s chair, forward movement had stalled repeatedly, and the final wrap came and went without the charette team making any sort of presentation to the audience.
Members of the charette team reported that the process was comfortable, and that they were comfortable with the finished work, and it is hard to judge from the outside.
This leads to an interesting question, about the experience of the charette as a conversation, and the judgment of charette as a goal-oriented activity.
There were only two observers this week, and we had a conversation that explored the progress of the charette through the lens of an incident that occurred after the break, and also explored the dynamic of the charette through the use of the pronoun “I”.

After the break, an incomplete charette team returned to the table, and this team gradually resumed work. However, the group appeared to have trouble reaching consensus without the full team at the table. When one of the professional members returned to the table, she challenged the team to expand the scope of their thinking: prior to the break, there had been a tenuous move to bring the group together around a poster-campaign centered on Aurora Commons.
This challenge did not activate the group, and Angela and Mark have differing opinions about this intervention.
Mark felt that the challenge was valid, and that the scope ought to have been broader, whereas Angela thought that the timing of the challenge dissipated the group’s energy, especially given the already fragile progress of the charette.


When we considered this fragile progress, we tried to identify what was happening. This focuses back on the question of teamwork, and in particular different possibilities for making statements, taking positions, asking questions, or generating consensus by inviting input.
One big stumbling block we noticed was the use of “I” phrases. We nicknamed “I” the toxic pronoun, as it seemed to effect conversation/discussion like a bucket of cold water. It seems like there are a couple of possibilities for this- first, taking an “I” position stakes out ownership of an idea; in rapidly forming groups like these charettes, it seems difficult for others to challenge such personal positions. We also noticed that “I” phrases are very difficult to pose as open ended questions, those which cannot be answered with a simple yes/no, but invite others to add, alter, or otherwise contribute.


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