But instructional design requires the ability to work with and for others. Building relationships in the workplace, and outside of it, is as important as the basic course design needed to develop the courses. In my experience, I have found that there are four levels of relationship that an instructional designer needs to cultivate and grow:
- With your supervisors
- With your colleagues
- With support teams
- With outside vendors
- With your customers
Here is how I break it down, please realize that this is not a model for all environments. The corporate world is more complex than the university setting (where I operate).
- Your relationship with your supervisors
I don’t mean to be a suck-up, you will have to disagree with them when you believe you are right. Do not bend over backwards to please your bosses, it will not serve both sides in the end. You also have to respect the position they are in, after all, they are there for some reason. You have to consider their vision of the section or team, the direction they want to take, it is their job to trace the way to go, it is your job to support those goals and do what you can to achieve them, even if you do not agree with them. But you have to voice your concerns if things are not working the way it was planned, this way, your boss can rectify the direction before it is too late.
- Your relationship with your colleagues
They are not your drinking buddies, but you may have a beer with them from time to time. You will be with them in the trenches, at this level your relationships become a little less formal because you will be spending most of the time with them, so the casual sharing of personal information is more common, which allows for a more comfortable interaction. It is important to be a team member, ready to help when any of your colleagues asks for it but able to decline when you have other priorities, do not drop everything you are doing to help a colleague, unless your boss asks you, or if you certainly do not have any looming deadlines (that is rarely the case), or if the project involves the whole team for delivery. Clashes of character and lack of affinity will sometimes be unavoidable, nevertheless you should keep things at the professional level, do not let your emotions cloud your judgement, do not let your aversion to a co-worker influence your opinion about an issue at work. This a fertile area where I could add other issues related to how you handle your work relationships (and personal) with your colleagues, for the sake of space, I will deal with this on a later post.
- Your relationship with your support teams
They are not your lackeys, do not demean those around you that provide a service or a support role to your team. Do not look down on them because you have the big college degree and they do not. Treat them with respect, respect the work they do. Ask as you would ask a colleague for help, they are an essential part of the organization as well. In some cases, some of these relationships will develop beyond the workplace. Show genuine interest in who they are, what they do in the organization, observe how they do their daily work, you might learn something new.
- Your relationship with outside vendors
This includes instructors, since many times they are hired to deliver content. This is one of the most demanding relationships in your circle. They will be the professionals you will be in touch the most. You have to keep up with production, your schedule, and with demands from your supervisors and the organization. Sometimes, this is the area where projects get delayed, the subject-matter expert (SME) would not cooperate with you or they will not work at your same speed. This is a very tricky situation because you are not their boss, certainly they are not your boss, your are the liaison, the glue that keeps the course production in schedule and on budget. You need to know your SMEs well, how they work, their styles, how they respond to your requests, and so on. There are also outside vendors. Unless you are the guy that makes the decision to purchase a product for the organization, they will bug you that much. But you need to have their number and information handy when you need it for technical or product support.
- Your relationship with your customers
Your customers are the population that will be learning in your courses. In many cases, when debugging is needed, the buck stops with you. Many organizations have student support and your intervention might not be needed. But you have to be ready to deal with students that do reach your help desk. You need to have the course and organization policies regarding refunding, assessments, deadlines, and accessibility.
I created this classification from my own experiences dealing with relationships in my workplace, as an instructional designer in a university setting. In the corporate world, things might be a little different. If you can help me reshaping this classification for a more general workplace (both academic and corporate), or if you have a different idea, please let me know. I am always looking for new learning experiences regarding my relationships to others around me.