Teamwork Training

An Interview with CWRU's Dr. Tyler Reimschisel

In partnership with Dr. Tyler Reimschisel (CWRU SOM), the IC developed an MR teamwork training module that allows groups of people from any field or background to practice essential teamwork skills in a fun and competitive block-building game. Afterwards, instructors replay the experience to debrief and analyze interactions to drive home the learning objectives and best practices.

Right before the app began its first round of student testing, we spent some time talking with Dr. Reimschisel — a pediatric neurologist by training who is passionate about teamwork. Dr. Reimschisel came to CWRU in 2019 as the Founding Associate Provost for Interprofessional Education, Research, and Collaborative Practice. Here are some excerpts from that interview, edited for clarity and length.

Founding Associate Provost for Interprofessional Education, Research, and Collaborative Practice at CWRU

How did you get started with this project?

TYLER: The purpose of our office is that we want individuals to be able to achieve higher impact through effective teamwork, and mixed reality is a method where we could do that; where we could teach teamwork skills to anyone. I'm a physician, so I'm coming from a healthcare perspective but pretty much everything is done in a team nowadays —private sector, nonprofits, political sector, education — so this training really is applicable to everyone.

Back in 2020 we submitted a grant, an RFP related to the strategic plan, and our project got funded by the University. It’s in alignment with where they feel like they want to be going and it's also very innovative — there's nothing like this, where people are using mixed reality to teach teamwork skills. It can also be a really cool way of bringing together people who don't typically come together, like engineering and healthcare and social work.

An early test of the TeamWork Training Module at the IC Office, 2021
The basic premise of the game is that small groups build towers of holographic blocks in a timed competition against other teams. Roles and responsibilities are self-assigned (block runners, builders, etc) and blocks must be stacked in a particular order to count towards the final score. In replay, players can see gaze, body positioning, and dictation displayed above avatar heads. 

Why is this technology well-suited to teach teamwork skills?

TYLER: People come together in teams from different disciplines, perspectives, and backgrounds, and part of effective teamwork is to be able to appreciate the perspectives of others. Not to see it exactly the way they do, but to recognize that our perspective is not the only way to approach a problem and it may not be the most important perspective, either. In the field of teamwork it's called “de-centering”: to learn to think that your view is not the only view. This technology allows us to literally do that by replaying what was said and was done at different points, and then rotating the view so you can see exactly what was happening from somebody else's perspective.

Another important thing is the ability to compare different groups. The app we’re working on with the holographic blocks, I did that with actual Duplo blocks with maybe 20 people, but you can't really scale it and see what all the teams do. With the HoloLens version, we can replay it and see the towers being built in real time and then stop it 45 seconds in, and say, “Look at the two teams that are doing really well right now. What did they do differently?” It’s really about the debrief; it’s exceptionally important. It isn't actually the process of building the tower — the task is not the goal, the goal comes later — it's having the team reflect, and think about what they can do better, and doing it again.

The dashboard feature of this game allows the facilitator to see the progress of the groups as they build their towers and compare them all side by side. At the end of game play, sessions can be downloaded and replayed at any particular point to analyze and discuss the interactions.

What about playing the game — why building blocks?

TYLER: I used to teach a course on ‘How to Teach a Skill to Healthcare Professionals’ and we used to do tying a tie, because if the content of the class is something medical, people argue about the facts. This Teamwork App is the same thing — we can focus on teamwork because the team isn't actually doing a task related to their work so they can focus on the process and learning the steps. And it's a competitive game, so it’s fun! You can practice skills that are transferable to real teams, like communicating back and forth with roles and responsibilities. These are really simple concepts but they frequently don't get applied and that's what we're trying to teach.

There’s also “Situation Monitoring,” which is an awareness of yourself and of the team: "How is our team doing? How is each member of the team contributing?" It's very hard for students to do that, and it's probably hard for everyone but you can see how that's transferred into healthcare. Like in a code situation when someone has a cardiac arrest, there is a person at the end of the table telling everyone what to do. They don't personally help because they need to see the whole thing, and if they start doing chest compressions they can't be the leader. That's another high level teamwork skill to practice — somebody could be overseeing it all and communicating what blocks to bring.

An image from the original storyboard for the TeamWork App put together by the IC and Dr. Reimschisel in 2020.

What advice do you want to pass onto future developers?

TYLER: I love innovating things and building things, and so I went into this thinking that I was going to learn a huge amount. We are developing these apps using a very diverse team. I don't know anything about programming, and there was a lot that they didn't know about what I was trying to do, and that's pretty cool because that's just about teamwork — explain your perspective and learn to see another one. Hopefully, if we get more funding, we can do more than just lock. For example, frequently in healthcare there are patient handovers from the operating room, to the recovery room, to the floor. What if one team starts with a task and then has to give instructions to the next team to continue it. Are there things that are lost from one team to the next?

It's exciting to think about how we can use this technology to teach teamwork skills in ways that no one's ever done. It also keeps Case Western Reserve on the cutting edge of something that I'm very passionate about. There's so much about teamwork that is pertinent to society's “wicked problems” — ones that are so complex that they will require people from different disciplines and perspectives to come together. How do you manage diversity? How do you recognize that your perspective is not the only perspective? This technology allows us to get people in and learn skills that they can use when they are working with very diverse groups of people on wicked problems. That's pretty lofty, but hopefully over time, we can get there.

To learn more about Dr. Reimschisel's work at the Office for Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Education and Research at CWRU, visit their website: