4 September 2017

Designing collaboration

Collaboration between different designers, stakeholders, departments or even companies is essential to innovation. Yet, collaborating with others comes with its fair amount of hurdle. Divergence of opinions, egos, personal preferences or differences in priorities, can all get in the way of the design process and turn a great initiative into a political fiasco. When done right however, co-creation is a powerful way to generate disruptive ideas, onboard stakeholders and ensure that change does happen for the better.

Designit Tokyo was invited by the Diamond Management Network, to host a training program on the topic of collaboration, to inspire and empower participants to better collaborate with others.

Collaboration should be designed

In today’s complex business world, involving relevant stakeholders sooner and more frequently is a mandatory condition to generate faster and better change. However, simply throwing different individuals into one room is rarely sufficient. Good collaboration requires the proper mindset, context and practice.

The 2-days workshop intended to provide participants with a set of tools and methods to apply to their everyday business challenges.

The first step to better collaborative team work is to understand when and how to collaborate. The Designit team introduced three scenarios in which collaboration can happen: divergence, when the team is looking for new ideas; convergence, when the team is looking to narrow down ideas; and improvement, when the team is looking to improve an existing idea. Each scenario requires a different dynamic and mindset.

In the context of divergence – when you are trying to get others creative – it is always helpful to include inspirational material. Generating ideas out of the blue is always a struggle and by providing artifacts participants can bounce on helps to maximize the amount of ideas generated.

During convergence, having a framework for evaluation will help bring objectivity into the conversation for easier alignment. One recommendation is to draft as a group, a list of criteria that will serve for evaluating the different ideas. By doing so, the selection doesn’t rely on individual preferences but on set of objective factors, known by all.

Lastly, the value of collaboration lies in bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise. Therefore, when ideas are in need of improvement, it is important to encourage the team to consider the concept from as many perspective as possible. Letting all participants bring to the table their own version or perspective on how a concept should unfold helps to build holistic experiences.

Starting and growing a collaborative culture

When employees feel like their organization’s culture is not naturally nurturing collaboration, it might seem hard to get started on their own. Fostering collaboration often seems like a grandiose enterprise that requires efforts and commitment at the executive level.

If a strong collaborative culture, initiated form the top and supported with proper infrastructure and processes is of course preferred, to many professionals it’s a luxury they can’t afford. Luckily, it is possible to infuse a collaborative spirit within a team or department by acting on small occasions. Conducting regular team meetings in a more open and participative manner; soliciting the opinion of a teammate when working on an individual task; holding small informal exchange sessions or divergence workshops in between projects… Such punctual individual initiatives can really start to shift the habits of a team towards more collaboration.

The tools that were introduced by the Designit team had been designed with flexibility and adaptability in mind, to fit all types of organizations, teams, challenges and resources. We might be tempted to template the ingredients for collaboration, but at its core, the approach has to remain flexible to naturally fit with each organizations. What might work for the R&D team of a hardware manufacturer might not apply to the marketing department of an airline, and vice versa.

In between our 2 training sessions, the participants were tasked to adapt the tools to their own needs and practice the methods within the context of their work. Like many things in the corporate world, practice makes perfect.

Facilitating collaboration

Indispensable ingredient to healthy collaboration, facilitation is the practice of influencing group dynamics in order to reach collective objectives. With good facilitation, the team is deemed to have better conversations, more efficient decision making, and ensures the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

The first step to well conducted collaborative session, is to designate a facilitator that acts as a recognized source of authority on the group dynamic. Responsible for the process and not for the content, the facilitator will plan and conduct the collaborative session, setting up the agenda and exercises that the group should go through. During the session, the facilitator makes sure that the rules of the game are understood and respected by all participants.

The second session of our workshop focused specifically on tips and tricks for better facilitation. Participants were exposed to the core principles of effective facilitation and got to practice their skills right away with our Facilitator Play Kit.

Do you want to practice your facilitation skills? Download our Facilitator Play Kit right here.

The sessions were deeply hands-on and interactive, allowing the participants to learn through practice. It also raised the Designit team’s understanding of the challenges that Japanese corporations face when it comes to collaboration.

Finally, we want to thank all the participants for their positive energy, creativity and curiosity, as well as the DMN, Diamond Management Network, for inviting Designit Tokyo to be a part of their training programs.

This training program was part of the DMN – Diamond Management Network, an institution that promotes the value of design to the Japanese corporate world. Learn more about their trainings and lectures here.

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