Iterating a Flat Culture

Caroline and Chloe discuss their experience designing the framework for the Hub’s culture, and how the team has contributed to culture-building.

carolinewhiteCaroline White, Designer and Researcher,
Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology



chloefosterChloe Arielle Foster, Designer and Researcher,
Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology



We started working at the Hub as interns, helping with the conception of it before the official launch. As a new organization on campus, the Hub was in a unique position to invent its culture in a way that supported and empowered student voice. From the beginning, Jeff Grabill, Director of the Hub, and Leigh Graves Wolf, Assistant Director of the Hub, expressed that students, namely the Hub’s interns, should be an active, essential component of the Hub’s project teams. But how we would structure and support that involvement still needed to be designed.

The two of us ended up taking the project originally called “Architecture for Student Involvement” under our wing. We were excited to have an opportunity to transform the way students were involved in innovative educational work. So, we dove in head first.

Our initial research revealed that, although many organizations and projects are dedicated to improving student learning, it is rare that we see students as an active, visible component of those project teams. The more we brainstormed together and spoke with the Hub’s current interns about their most valuable work experiences, we quickly realized that an “architecture for student involvement” project didn’t fully encompass what we were imagining and what needed to be created. Some of our most valuable learning experiences occurred in professional spaces where we were trusted, respected, and treated as equal colleagues. We wanted the internships at the Hub to provide students with a similar working environment. It became apparent to us that the way that students were involved in the Hub’s projects should be no different from the way full-time staff and faculty were involved. So, the scope of our project shifted away from focusing solely on students, and instead focused on building a “Framework for Hub Culture.”

Below are some of the strategies the Hub is currently implementing to build and maintain a flat culture, where everyone, no matter job title, interacts as equals:


Establishing and Maintaining a Flat Culture
The Hub maintains a flat culture by breaking hierarchical barriers and allowing a person’s skill set, rather than her title, to determine the role she plays in a project team. As a result, full-time staff members as well as interns have the potential to lead and pitch new ideas and projects.


Establishing a formal mentorship model between interns and full-time staff members can help interns feel more comfortable jumping into projects and conversations. The mentor can also serve as an advocate for the student and identify areas where the intern’s abilities would be most useful as well as areas that can stretch and challenge them.


Removing Labels
“Student” as a label, although not intended to be negative, often fosters the mentality that someone is less capable or should not be given tasks of extreme importance. Internally, Hub staff members have been avoiding defining projects and tasks as “student work,” choosing instead to delegate tasks based on skill sets, not the stage they are at in their careers.


Engagement and Transparency
Regular, active communication among team members about the state of Hub projects, events, and meetings is critical to maintaining a flat culture and creating a community where every staff member feels involved and valued. Slack, Trello, and Google Drive are all used to provide transparency in the Hub’s work and help staff members catch up on the status of different projects and communicate quickly.


Interns on Project Teams
Within a year, the Hub plans to have at least one intern on every project team. Not only will this help break down the hierarchy that can emerge when interns are separated from regular staff members, but it will also provide projects with a fresh or “inside” perspective into the student experience.