Where Teamwork and Design Thinking Combine: Partnering with Juliana Acosta and AdventHealth

Teamwork and design thinking can surprisingly go hand-in-hand. Just ask Juliana Acosta ‘09MBA. She’s the director of AdventHealth’s Leadership Institute where they identify, nurture, and develop emerging executive leaders across the organization. AdventHealth also has a design thinking lab; that’s where Juliana connected with Dr. Keenan Yoho, Crummer professor of Operations Management, as he was helping to design new programs.

They decided to team up, with the help of Dr. Sandra Dunbar-Smalley, the Vice President of the Leadership Institute, for Dr. Yoho’s Design Thinking class in order to give the students some hands-on practice with AdventHealth. Students were placed onto four teams and directed to come up with a design for delivering learning for the leadership development initiative. They helped ask difficult and innovative questions, using their curiosity to bring challenges and opportunities to light. This assisted Juliana in shifting her perspective, helping her think about what leadership may need in a more intentional way.

Sydney Mathis, also with AdventHealth’s Leadership Institute, worked directly with the Crummer students and discussed their design thinking and how the current learning systems in AdventHealth are running. One team in particular honed in on a program called the AdventHealth Learning Network, or ALN, and how to bring innovative designs into that area. “They recognized the need for our current system in such a large organization, but the group figured out ways to make it more efficient for leaders using it, really thinking about the end user and their experience, true design thinking,” Sydney said.

Teamwork was necessary to achieve those results. Juliana is passionate about teams: “If I can help them become better and stronger, I am at my best,” she said. She outlined the Four Cs for having an outstanding team. They are master collaborators that have the psychological safety to fail fast and fail cheap but yet to course correct with kindness and compassion. How to get to that point involves the other three Cs: First is connection, or building interpersonal connections with each other, knowing what everyone’s purpose is, understanding where everyone is coming from, and creating a safety net to work together.  Then comes communication, which is the root of how we build trust and psychological safety. Finally continuous improvement, or having a curious mindset that is cultivated by the team leader to truly make everyone thrive.

How does all this apply to design thinking? Design thinking involves using creative problem-solving methods to consider the best result for the end user of a product or service. By utilizing effective teams to do this analysis, ideas flow freely and frequently, and more and better solutions come from the collaboration of minds.

For example, Juliana discussed how a team focused on design thinking at AdventHealth addressed a problem they were having: patients were scoring the facilities as lower than normal on cleanliness. Did that mean they needed to clean more? The team wasn’t sure. They first went to select patients and asked them to discuss their rationale behind their cleanliness scoring. It turned out that patients were unaware of certain cleanliness procedures the staff completed during their visit. The team brainstormed then developed a prototype where they had a script for the staff to use, discussing how they were keeping the environment clean to ensure the safety of the patient. Cleanliness scores went up. Design thinking practices allowed the AdventHealth team to realize the problem wasn’t in cleaning practices, but in communication with the patients.

Juliana credits much of her teamwork skills with the way Crummer designs its classes to be in cohorts. “The cohort team simulates being in a professional job, and you work on becoming master collaborators. You must truly connect and be clear about who owns what, what skills you have on the team, how to set up ground rules for success, and make sure you communicate clearly.” It created a foundation for working on a highly collaborative team, where failures and successes are seen as part of the team dynamic.

Crummer also taught her how to ask better questions and be curious, just what is needed for design thinking. “You want to be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all. I can be useful to the team, but there are also people here who know more than I do. Why not put our heads together and come up with something much bigger than we could have on our own?”

Dr. Yoho’s students also validated something new Juliana was coming to understand: the way people learn is changing. Pre-pandemic, people would sit in a room and listen to a speaker talk to them. When COVID hit, everything adjusted to learning online. It’s been several years since the height of the pandemic, and learning has shifted again. People now like to embrace micro-learning like what is seen in snippets of minutes or less on Instagram and TikTok. They want something that is fast and immediately applicable. And the Crummer teams confirmed this; they enjoy micro-learning too. “We have to be more agile, more nimble in order to really meet the needs of the changing workforce,” Juliana said. Another time design thinking comes into play.

The future partnership of Crummer and AdventHealth looks bright. Both Juliana and Sydney are excited for the next cohort of Dr. Yoho’s students to come through and apply their teamwork and design thinking skills to the Leadership Institute at Advent Health. Especially with executive sponsors Randy Haffner ‘92MBA, president and CEO of AdventHealth Florida, and Olesea Azevedo, chief administrative officer at AdventHealth, on board. “Perhaps it will expand our partnerships or draw leaders out for other projects,” Juliana said. Whatever comes next, Juliana will be prepared with her foundational skills in teamwork and design thinking started here at Crummer.

If you would like to hone your teamwork and design thinking skills and get started on earning your MBA, make an appointment with a Crummer admissions specialist