From Reflective Practitioner
to Learning Professionals

To work effectively as a team, architects must not only reflect on their individual experience, but also learn from each other. This thesis investigated both processes – reflecting and learning – through three research studies. The first study examined six design teams’ reflective practices and team learning qualities when they pitched for an architectural project valued at $2 billion. The second study surveyed 105 architects and revealed distinct team learning behaviours that was linked closely to team effectiveness. The last study tested a one-hour online workshop with an architecture firm to reflect on and learn from their team processes, which resulted in gradual improvements in their team performance.

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From Reflective Practitioner to Learning Professionals: For architects to work effectively in a team, they must transcend from being a group of reflective individual practitioners into a dynamic team of learning professionals, such as a team of lawyers. The research in this thesis sets out to test this hypothesis by investigating the reflective practices and team learning behaviours applied by architectural teams when participating in design competitions and also as applied in their day‐to‐day work.

Individual architects often draw from their experience and tacit knowledge to design a range of projects for their clients, from small scale house renovations to large scale schools and hospitals. To design effectively, they reflect‐in‐action to leverage their knowing‐in‐action, they reflect‐on‐actions to assess their work, and they reflect‐in‐practice to interrogate their practice. Such actions give architects the role of a Reflective Practitioner. However, when working in teams, architects cannot just expect others to understand their individual design practice approach, simply by communicating their experiences. Instead, they must help others learn from their experience as well as learn from the experiences of others in the team, ultimately co‐creating a sense of team knowledge as a basis and impetus for their approach to developing any design of a particular project.

While reflecting and learning are not new to architects, the integration of these practices with the reflections and learnings of the other members of the team are crucial for collaborating effectively with their team and other project stakeholders. Therefore, reflecting must be intentional, not casual, and team learning must be directional, not accidental. Therefore, I elaborate in Chapter 02 how – in a design context – the theory of Reflective Practice feeds into the theory of Learning Organisations, with a narrowed focus on Team Learning. In Chapter 03, I explain how team learning builds on the current research of how designers collaborate by measuring how designers learn from each other when they collaborate.

I examine this relationship between Reflective Practice and Team Learning in three research studies. In Chapter 05, I describe an exploration of how architecture teams pitch their designs in a real‐world project competition. In this exploration, I analysed the reflective practice qualities of the pitch and the team learning behaviours of the competing architectural teams as perceived by the competition jury. In Chapter 06, I report a survey conducted with architects in Victoria, Australia to identify the role of team learning behaviours in the performance of architectural teams. I also analysed how architects facilitated team learning behaviours with their team by facilitating reflection‐in‐practice activities through interviews. Finally, in Chapter 07, I designed and tested a workshop with an architecture firm to examine and improve the teams’ learning behaviour by engaging the team in reflecting‐in‐practice.

This dissertation amalgamates different individual studies that examine the various aspects of Reflective Practice and Team Learning. Hence, I report my findings within each of the study chapters, then discuss the overarching focus on Reflective Practice and Team Learning in Chapter 08. I then conclude this research project by recommending future research trajectories and suggesting ways to apply these findings in architecture practice.


To cite: Tan, L., 2021, ‘From Reflective Practitioner to Learning Professionals: The role of reflecting and learning in architecture teams’, PhD thesis, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia


The Research summary explains the overall research question, methodology, and aim of the three studies. The Research introduction describes what the research is about and why this research is needed. It also describes how to navigate this dissertation. The Research methodology describes the common research methodologies used in qualitative and quantitative research. I referenced these common research practices to design the three studies for this thesis.

Research summary

team learning, reflective practice, design collaboration, architecture

Download Research Summary (pp xiii — xxi)

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This project explores learning and reflection practices in architectural teams when they design various projects. When architects reflect‐on‐action (i.e. think about what they designed), they learn from experience. When they reflect‐in‐action (i.e. unconsciously think about what they are designing), they learn from experiencing. Such reflective practices help architects to build project knowledge and to deliver their projects. But most architects work in teams, alongside other individuals from the building industry, who have different ways of learning and knowledge perspectives. This begs the question; how do learning and reflective practices affect the performance of architecture teams in delivering design outcomes?
This project addresses this question by 1) using reflective practice, team learning and design collaboration literature to frame how architects learn as a team, 2) exploring how team learning influences the competitive performance of architecture teams, 3) measuring how team learning affects architecture team performance, and 4) experimenting within a reflective workshop to help architects improve their team learning skills and thus, team performance. The article concludes by discussing the theoretical contributions and practical implications of reflective practices in the fields of architecture and design.

Research introduction

Download Chapter 1 Introduction (pp 3 — 21)

Research methodology

Download Chapter 4 Research methodology (pp 61 — 75)

Theoretical review

The Theoretical evolution discusses why we should re‐examine Reflective Practice and how to expand the theory current architecture, and more generally for design, practice. The Literature review describes the current literature on design collaboration, then offers team learning literature as a more detailed framework for examining how designers collaborate.

Reflecting on Donald Schön’s “Reflective Practitioner”: Where to next?

Reflective Practice, Experiential Learning, Team Learning

Download Chapter 2 Theoretical evolution (pp 23 — 41)

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It is close to forty years since Donald Schön published his seminal work, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. This publication emerged during the peak of the Design Methods movement when works like Archer’s Systemic Method for Designers and Simon’s The Science of the Artificial argued for recognising design processes as scientific inquiries. Coincidentally, Schön posited an alternative view to rationalising design processes, called Professional Artistry, which is implicit professional knowledge. Using protocol studies in various disciplines, he demonstrated that professionals reflect‐in‐action while working and, as a result, learn and produce knowledge only through doing (knowing‐in‐action). Since then, design theorists, researchers and professionals have used this writing enthusiastically to articulate that designers learn more about their design process and their design project as they design. Forty years on, The Reflective Practitioner continues to serve many design researchers as a foundation of learning from the experience of their design processes. However, this theory has limitations that must be recognised and addressed to stay relevant in today’s design context. Reflective Practitioner was written for individuals, whereas nowadays, designers often work in teams. Therefore, the next step is to consider how individual reflections are shared and learnt with other designers so that the team benefits from its collective reflective practices.

Behaviours in design collaborations: Insights from a team learning perspective

design collaboration, team learning, collaborative behaviours

Download Chapter 3 Literature review (pp 45 — 60)

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This chapter proposes that designers can improve their collaboration effectiveness by fostering team learning behaviours. Most of the design collaboration literature focuses on how to transmit information between members of a design team effectively. However, team learning literature looks at how to effectively transmit, understand, refine, and retransmit information between members of that team with clearer specificity. Despite the extant literature on design collaboration, there has been little to no research that has examined the collaborative model and the effects of team learning behaviours on delivering collaborative designs. This paper provides a literature overview of design collaboration, which has predominantly studied design activities through a social lens. The paper then provides examples of the growing body of team learning literature from organisational learning, which focuses on the learning processes of teams that collaborate on a project, regardless of their discipline. The paper then synthesises both strands of design research and organisational learning research, before proposing that team learning behaviours are more explicit in indicating effective design collaborations than our existing research on communicating practices.

Empirical studies

The Case study uses Reflective Practice and Team Learning Behaviours to explore how architecture teams pitch their designs in a real‐world competition. The Survey examines the role and practise of Team Learning Behaviours in architecture firms in Victoria, Australia. The Intervention developed a team reflection workshop and tested it with a practising architecture firm to improve their team processes. This final study demonstrated the impact of research as it applied the Survey findings to create change in the world.

Case study: Picking a design, or a design team? The role of Reflective Practice and Team Learning in architecture competitions

Reflective Practice, team learning behaviour, team performance

– I used Reflective Practice to describe the design pitch of architectural teams.
– I observed six teams present in a real-world architecture competition in 2018.
– Winning team demonstrated the most Framing, Moving and Evaluating language.
– I interviewed the competition jury to find out the teams’ learning behaviours.
– The winning team was perceived to demonstrate the most team learning behaviours.

Download Chapter 5 Case Study (pp 79 — 104)

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This chapter examines the role of Reflective Practice and Team Learning in the performance of architecture teams when they pitch their proposals in a design competition. Pitching proposals is significant to architects because pitching designs in competitions is one of the ways architects procure jobs. Previous researchers used the principles of Reflective Practice to describe how teams design together. This study adds to those works by using the principles of Reflective Practice to describe how teams communicate their design to clients. Additionally, this case study introduces team learning concepts to describe how clients perceive design teams when pitching their proposals. In 2018, I observed six architecture teams pitch their design in an architecture competition, analysed the documents presented and interviewed the jury. Results revealed that the winning team demonstrated the most Framing, Moving and Evaluating language in their pitch. They were also perceived to have demonstrated the most team learning behaviours amongst all the competitors.

Survey: High-performing architectural teams: The role of team learning and reflection

team learning behaviour, team performance, architecture teams

– I surveyed 105 Australian architects on their learning behaviours and performance.
– Team learning behaviours were positively associated with team performance.
– Such behaviours were team reflexivity, error communication and boundary-crossing.
– I interviewed nine architects to identify common team learning behaviours.
– Learning behaviours were either project-specific or part of office procedures.

Download Chapter 6 Survey (pp 105 — 127)

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This chapter examines the role of team learning behaviours in the performance of architectural teams. This is significant to architects because most architects work in teams within their firm and with external consultants in a project team. Although there is a growing body of research on the behaviours of design teams, this survey is one of the first studies conducted specifically on the learning behaviours of architects working in teams. I conducted a survey with 105 architecture firms in Victoria, Australia to collect perceptions on the team learning behaviour and performance of the architecture teams, and interviewed nine architects to explore the practices they used to facilitate team learning behaviours. Results from the survey demonstrated that team reflexivity, error communication and boundary-crossing behaviours were positively associated with team effectiveness and employee satisfaction.

Intervention: Using Design Thinking to guide team reflection and learning in architectural teams

team reflection, reflective workshop, design thinking
– I developed a one-hour online workshop to facilitate group reflection and improve team processes in architecture teams.
– I used the team learning behaviour questionnaire to measure changes due to the workshop.
– I tested the workshop with three teams in an architecture firm.
– After twelve weeks, there was slight improvement between the workshop’s focus and the specific team process across all three teams.

Download Chapter 7 Intervention (pp 129 — 156)

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This chapter examines how a design‐based workshop can promote team reflection. I present an intervention study conducted using an action research framework with three working teams. The workshop uses design thinking methodology to structure the activities and leverages reflective practice inherent in design processes to engage participants on different levels of reflection. In 2020, I conducted the workshop with sixteen employees of an architecture firm in Sydney, Australia. I surveyed the employees’ team learning behaviour pre‐ and post‐workshop to identify any changes over the twelve‐week study. The findings indicate that the activities engaged participants to reflect independently on their own experience and collectively as a team. While the questionnaire findings showed the teams had mixed results regarding changes in their team behaviour, there was a positive relationship between the reflection workshop’s focus and the specific team process across all three teams.


The Thesis Discussion and Conclusion distill the research findings into actionable points for practitioners, describes the project limitations, suggests some future research directions, and makes recommendations for architecture practice and education bodies to lean on this research.

Thesis Discussion and Conclusion

Download Chapter 8 Discussion and Chapter 9 Conclusion (pp 159 — 184)

Interested to apply the findings in your firm?

While I have completed my PhD, I continue to help architectural teams improve their performance through rigorous research. Leave me a message to find out how I can use my research to help your team grow.