Paving the way to new ideas and teamwork

We were looking for ideas about the high street when we launched the Streets Ahead project with the RIBA Architecture Centre earlier this year (see supplement). And by focusing on the area around London’s Oxford Street – one of Britain’s most famous shopping drags – we homed in on a model that might transfer to city centres throughout the land.

Interestingly our teams looked more towards improving the quality of life for people around the three sites in our study than at means of reviving retailing in what has become a pretty run-down high street area. The general view was that a boost to retail fortunes is likely to follow if the environment is less hostile.

In running the project we had a hidden agenda – that of bringing together designers of all disciplines to address a common ill. And it worked extremely well – a graphic designer commanding architects, a product designer designing a lightweight building and everyone giving views on public transport. It can be done. It only takes the will to respect each others’ strengths – and the opportunity.

What we hadn’t bargained for was that the exercise would become a study in teamwork. Three teams, all of about the same size and with a mix of personality and expertise, each handled the situation differently. One team kicked off by discussing how to present its plan – even before the ideas started to flow; another meshed very much behind the scenes, with “homework” allocated for the week between the two workshop sessions; members of the third team did more talking – and arguing – after the event, the result being a collage of unrelated ideas rather than a unified solution.

Things worked best where there was cohesion. But rarely was this achieved by textbook methods – nor did leadership come from the most obvious quarters. The process reinforced the view that the best team is a mix of types and talents, but we also learned that the individuals concerned needed breathing space to make the best contribution. Our thanks to all who put themselves through it.

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