Sticky Situations: Lessons in Group Cohesion

Over the past couple of weeks, we Praxers have been wire-framing two distinct visions of the Ivanhoe game in two groups – Eliza, Scott, and Stephanie in one, Francesca, Zach, and I in the other. On Wednesday we presented our visions to each other and our dedicated Scholars’ Lab mentors. (Francesca has written an excellent summation of both, highlighting some of the key similarities and differences.) As we await the second databurst from the people who know how to actually build our fuzzy visions, I thought I would share a couple of brief reflections on how our first stab at creating something together went.

First Lesson: Ivanhoe = Archaeological Excavation.

As an archaeologist, I am accustomed to – and very much relish – working with other people towards building a coherent interpretation of archaeological data. Indeed, one person has never and will never be able to collect, organize, and analyze all of the data which comes out of an excavation, not only due to the sheer quantity of information, but also because of the years required to develop sufficient expertise in any one sub-field of archaeology to properly contextualize finds.

Ivanhoe is a bit like an archaeological site, and since it’s still in the early stages of development, it presents many of the same questions and problems. To add to the chaos, we Praxers do not yet have defined specialties, and our overall interests and goals are, for the most part, strikingly amorphous. So as of last week, we were effectively a group of first-time DH archaeologists looking at a gigantic field armed only with the knowledge that there was something out there somewhere for us to find. By wire-framing some of our visions of Ivanhoe we executed a field survey and, with the interpretative assistance of the SLab R&D people, we’re finally going to figure out where to ‘dig’ and what sorts of tools and specialties we’re going to need to accomplish our project.

Yes, that is a terribly convoluted metaphor. Nevertheless, I think it is helpful in conceptualizing how to work on a collaborative DH project. No one of us will hold ‘The Key’ to making Ivanhoe work, and our final product will be more than the sum of our individual efforts. (Or so one would hope.)

Second Lesson: Thinking Brilliant Thoughts Means Nothing If You Don’t Articulate Them.

Every once in a while, an absolutely Brilliant Idea enters into my head. (Allow me the illusion for the moment.) I tell myself that I won’t forget this Brilliant Idea and continue to go about the rest of my day, basking smugly in the radiant glow of my own genius.

The end of the day arrives, and I finally sit at my computer to write the paper/essay/dissertation chapter which will elucidate for the world my Brilliant Idea.

And it’s gone.

I spend that evening trying to recreate the moment the Brilliant Idea struck me, combing my memory for any detail which might trigger the Brilliant Idea to reappear. But instead of suddenly recalling the Brilliant Idea in full, with additional layers of nuance added from my efforts in remembering it, I pass the evening writing laboriously around the topic of the Brilliant Idea and hoping it will manifest again if I just…write…enough.

I suspect I am not the only person to have suffered the loss of a Brilliant Idea. I did not, however, realize that the very same thing happens in groups. Francesca, Zach, and I had a number of excellent conversations about our vision of Ivanhoe (greatly facilitated by our SLab mentors!). The problem, however, came after the conversations, when we had to figure out how to articulate everything we discussed in a coherent manner. Not until Jeremy finally forced us to diagram things out did we understand just what we were doing, and at that point we started to realize how many holes we had in our vision.

This lesson reiterates what I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, but I think it is absolutely crucial to making sure we actually have a concrete product by the end of the year which reflects the quality conversations and vibrant energy of our group.

Third Lesson: Disagreement Happens.

This is another statement of the obvious, but making disagreements fruitful and productive is something that, in my opinion, we are struggling with as a group. Francesca’s blog post last month on the evolution of group dynamics and Stephanie’s subsequent evaluation of our group based on Tuckman’s Forming-Norming-Storming-Performing model are indicative of our general concern with being positive and productive as a group.

The fact is that academia can be terribly isolating and often values individual, field-specific contributions by far more than collaborative, interdisciplinary ones. As graduate students in the humanities and social sciences, we often talk about my research, my contribution, my interests. But perhaps, as we work through the conflicts between our individual ideas, we can continue to better our project.

2013-14 Praxis Fellow and PhD Candidate in Classical Art & Archaeology working on South Italian Pottery and Vase-Painting. Indulges in reading sci-fi, petting cats, and eating chocolate.


  1. Great post Veronica! I wonder if part of the lacking group dynamics is my virtual participation? Sometimes I feel like my ideas are quickly shot down or silenced in a way that seems harsher than if I were in the room. I also worry that there are parts of conversations that I just miss out on as people are getting settled or leaving. Another problem seems to be our limited time – from what I gather, many of us have a number of academic/personal obligations that make our time in the lab limited. I wonder if having a two hour meeting (rather than 2 one hour meetings) might be better or just having more in-person time in the lounge? Not sure if this is even possible given our crazy schedules but hopefully I will be able to spend a bit more time on grounds next semester in an effort to build a more cohesive team dynamic.