Working on a Challenge Team was “Like the Prototype for Collaboration”

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver Katharine Kolcaba.
By Paul Arnold
Katharine Kolcaba is a nursing theorist and Associate Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Akron who came up with the Comfort Theory.

It is a middle range theory for health practice, education, and research that is being applied across a range of healthcare disciplines. In 2017 she joined her first IdeaConnection problem-solving team which was tasked with a challenge in the areas of human comfort. The team was successful in their endeavors and each member picked up a nice check.

In this article, Katharine talks about her first time as a challenge team member, what she enjoyed and learned about the experience and how her background in academia and nursing helped.


Katherine Kolcaba
My discipline was nursing and so I returned to graduate school after about 20 years of bedside nursing. And Comfort Theory evolved as a result of my different assignments in graduate school. It was the first theory about comfort anywhere as far as I know in any discipline. I was required to do a literature review, searching for themes and looking at what past academics and discipline representatives said about comfort. I put all that together to create a theory of holistic comfort. We had to have a theory for our dissertation and so that was it.

And this theory explains comfort in quantitative terms?

The graduate school that I was going to - Case Western University - had a very empirically based program; they were interested, primarily, in quantitative research at that time. Since I graduated the nursing program has branched out to include a qualitative approach to research.

You, therefore, brought a lot of relevant experience to the challenge. What were you being asked to do by the seeker?

When we started working together, we were told not to dwell on the end product. The first step of this challenge was just bringing together knowledge about the human perception of comfort. The articles that I had published (and that are really easy to find on the internet) all dealt with this. Although my work was in healthcare, it was applicable to any discipline, and it started to be applied to other disciplines before this challenge. My area of expertise was the theory and I was the only one on our team who had that background.

Did your colleagues on the team have prior experience in the comfort field?

One woman was from a physiological background, the different postures and sitting positions of the body, measuring muscle tone and where stressors are in the body in specific situations. She seemed more of an ergonomics specialist and a lot of comfort theory came from ergonomics originally. So I was comfortable with what she was saying. The third person was involved in media production related to different body positions and was highly technical, so the opposite of my background. He did a lot of complicated graphs which were a really nice supplement to our work. I learned a lot from the other team members.

We all had different contributions which is what made it fun and stimulating. I looked forward to our discussions together. We did phone conferences and the team was so respectful of each other's backgrounds. We really worked hard to incorporate all our backgrounds into the final product. And I felt the theoretical portion which I contributed was honored as much as the technical content. The way we worked together was a wonderful experience and an example of how to truly collaborate and listen to each other.

What was your input?

Right away the facilitator came up with an outline that she felt would answer the challenge and we took parts of that outline that were most appropriate to our backgrounds. This outline was so helpful and I just adapted my theory to my parts of the outline as did the other two solvers. We divided that outline in about five minutes. It was painless.

I think our facilitator was brilliant. She had done several projects for IdeaConnection and so she knew how to do all the right things to organize a group effort like this with people who don't know each other and who have quite different backgrounds. It was amazing. She was so kind and fun and diplomatic and open to all of our ideas as we were with each other. It made the project run very smoothly.

What insights did you glean about the nature of collaboration?

It was the way we listened to each other and took our turns responding, adding to or asking questions. I taught nursing for 20 years and tried to teach teamwork among the students. Most of them didn’t like it because they didn't trust their team members to do an equal amount of work. So I really valued the fact that we didn't have those issues. It was like the prototype for collaboration. It could've been a stressful, difficult project but it wasn't because of the way we were able to work together and the skill of our facilitator.

I also learned a lot about other disciplines, other ways of thinking through a problem, styles of writing, styles of solving complex issues, and how to integrate our different perspectives into a coherent whole.

And the net result was that the team was successful.

Yes, and that was super exciting. I called my friends to say “they accepted our solution…..yay!” The news was also prompt. We were expecting an answer on Feb 15th and it came on the 14th.

Would you like to take on more challenges with IdeaConnection?

If Comfort Theory is relevant in some other application, sure it would be a lot of fun. But I will have a pretty high bar to compare the next experience to. If I had the same facilitator I would have no doubts at all - she was just fabulous. And you know, when the whole thing was over I missed talking to the team. We got to know each other more than just as co-workers. It was nice. I really did miss the whole process when it was over.

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