Rackham North Workshop

Oct 1, 2019

As part of its program for student Professional and Academic Development, the Rackham Graduate School (University of Michigan) offers a series of workshops and events. In October 2019, this series included a workshop on Developing Collaborative Practices and Skills, specially designed by ArtsEngine and incorporating select elements of the Collaboration Kit. (ArtsEngine supports the integration of the arts on U-M’s North Campus, where the College of Engineering is housed, and works closely with a2ru.)

The workshop was open to any U-M graduate student interested in collaborative practice, so ArtsEngine staff planned for students from a range of disciplines who perhaps had never met each other. ArtsEngine Managing Director Deb Mexicotte and Student Program Manager Amy Tackitt selected and customized activities from the Collaboration Kit to meet the needs of this group, defining the goals of this 90-minute workshop as:

  • Practice strategies for identifying team skills/assets
  • Identify and practice strategies to effectively deal with challenges
  • Experience collaboration “on-the-fly”
  • Understand the value of interdisciplinary teams•
  • Understand the value of and strategies for “renegotiation”

Mexicotte and Tackitt followed the general rhythm of the Collaboration Kit’s agenda, toggling participants between instruction about collaboration strategies, actual experience of collaboration, and reflection and debriefing on that experience.

AUDIENCE: Graduate students at the University of Michigan

FORMAT: 90-minute workshop, with voluntary attendance

GOAL: Give students strategies and best practices for working on interdisciplinary teams


After initial ice-breaker activities, workshop participants quickly found themselves in teams of four or five people to engage in a simulation modeled on the one in the Collaboration Kit. This simulation gives participants the hands-on experience of collaborating on a relevant task, but with low stakes. The Collaboration Kit provides a simulation scenario that is intended for a workshop audience of faculty and academic officers, so the ArtsEngine staff customized the scenario for their grad student audience.


Before teams began their simulation task, they engaged in a Premortem, a strategic foresight activity from the Collaboration Kit that asks workshop participants to imagine that their collaboration is done, and it has failed spectacularly. They must list all the reasons for its failure. This technique capitalizes on a cognitive trick called prospective hindsight—imagining that an event has already occurred, and research shows that prospective hindsight increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%.

The Rackham North workshop participants had no problem filling scores of sticky notes with reasons that a collaboration will fail!


To provide workshop participants a strategy for negotiating conflict among team members, ArtsEngine staff showed Waterline, a short video from the Collaboration Kit. The video explains the Waterline model, in which potential sources of team conflict lie at increasing depths below the surface. Many collaborators jump to the idea that conflict on a team is rooted in a clash of personalities, but the Waterline model suggests that conflict more likely lies closer to the surface, with Structure (including roles and goals) or with Process (how work flows and decisions get made). After these areas have been investigated, then team members might consider Interpersonal or Intrapersonal explanations for conflict.

Mexicotte then presented all the reasons for failure participants had identified in the Premortem as examples of conflict in the Waterline categories of Structure, Process, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. Workshop participants saw the sticky notes that they themselves had written associated with these different types of conflict, driving home the reality that the collaborative failures they were familiar with could indeed be addressed through the Waterline model.

How Did It Go?

In addition to the simulation, Premortem, and Waterline, ArtsEngine incorporated the Collaboration Kit Team Charter and Pinch-Crunch video (Pinch-Crunch is a strategy for negotiating conflict) in their Rackham North Workshop. They also included a Skills Mapping activity they had created for a similar student workshop.

While workshop participants’ responses to all the activities were positive, they most appreciated the hands-on experience of actually working collaboratively on a team in this facilitated setting.

By connecting Premortem and Waterline, ArtsEngine devised an inventive way to make both activities more meaningful. A2RU encourages users of the Collaboration Kit to tinker with and customize its components in this way.