12 min read
Words like “collaboration” and “innovation” are popular buzzwords in the workplace - typically thrown around as positive sentiments that organisations and teams like to be associated with, but what does good collaboration and innovation actually look like?
I recently attended a three-day course which explored multidisciplinary innovation - a design thinking process focused on shifting a problem, opportunity or hunch to an implemented solution through converging and diverging. Working in a multidisciplinary team, we followed the converge and diverge process to come up with ideas to a problem we had defined, using a series of different design and research methodologies. Here, I share five of my key takeaways from the course, which include challenges many may resonate with along with insights that could positively provoke the way you work in multidisciplinary teams.
1. When diverging, avoid ‘stopping’ phrases
If you’re looking to kickstart innovation and generate exciting ideas, you aren’t going to achieve that by using stopping phrases. Stopping phrases can be described as any points made following the explanation of an idea that challenge it. Examples of stopping phrases include:
“We’ll need to chat to X before doing that”
“That’s not a priority - it’s not on our roadmap”
“That doesn’t fit under our current objectives”
Unfortunately, stopping phrases are often aired subconsciously, but are largely detrimental to creativity as they stifle innovation and collaboration. Think about it, if a team member has some burning ideas, but is then shot down with something like “X team has already looked into something like that”, they will be less likely to contribute further as there are blockers to their thinking. The more stopping phrases used, the more the individual pitching the ideas is thinking “Well, what’s the point?” The principal rule of any innovation process is to separate idea generation from the evaluation and judgement of ideas.
2. Fewer thoughts, more ideas
When it comes to ideation, one of the things that many people can fall into the trap of is coming up with thoughts rather than ideas. Thoughts are more general. It’s anything running through your mind that might pave the way for an idea.
An example of a thought might be:
- “Not everyone is confident at networking during an event”
On the other hand, ideas serve a purpose and are actionable(Ican go away and make something happen), and usually compromise of a number of thoughts.
An example of an idea might be:
- “Because not everyone is confident at networking during an event, we could introduce some icebreaker games that help get people talking”
It’s important to make sure that you’re producing ideas and not just thoughts during ideation. Walking out of a meeting room with just a thought will require more work, thinking and time as it is effectively the stage before an idea.
3. Make the quieter people heard
It’s important to remember that not everyone in your team is the same. Good collaboration will have people from cross-disciplines with different levels of seniority around a table. There will be people with different skillsets. People with different ways of thinking. People who are extroverted, and others who are introverted. It’s important for the facilitator to make sure that everyone has an equal say and that all voices are heard. It can be far too easy for a creative session to be monopolised or railroaded by an individual person’s thoughts and actions. To avoid this, ensure there is a designated facilitator. The facilitator could:
- Ask each person around the table if they have something they’d like to contribute
- Get everyone to work individually, then come together and share thoughts and ideas
- Divide up a task into themes, assign one to each team member, and feed back collectively
Be sure to make the most of the collective and individual expertise within your team. You can also help ‘level the playing field’ through icebreaker activities. Try asking everyone what their favourite toy was when they were a child. It’s something everyone can answer, and helps humanise the situation. You can also establish a list of creative behaviours to follow before working together.
If you’re not the facilitator and struggle to speak up, you could try:
- Sketching or jotting down your thinking - it won’t be long until someone in your team prompts for your insights when they spot that you're scribbling down ideas.
- Gentle interruption - sometimes it’s the only way to be heard when deep conversations are happening. Don’t hold your ideas back as you may run out of time. If you hear a conversation winding down and have something you’d like to contribute, why not say “Can I just add something” or “Before we move on”
Remember, people aren’t there to judge you, and when diverging there’s no right or wrong idea. Try not to think too much about what other people are thinking, and focus on quantity of ideas rather than quality of ideas.
4. Mine for the diamond idea
Much like a diamond, a diamond idea is clear-cut, simple, elegant and almost self-explanatory. However, also much like a diamond, they are hard to come across and require a lot of digging and mining - but are totally worth it.
It can be far too easy when converging to work towards an idea that solves a problem, or multiple problems, but is complex to both explain and understand. It could even be a mammoth idea that requires years of work and a lot of budget. These aren’t necessarily bad ideas, but it will be a much harder sell to stakeholders. On the other hand, a simple idea that is a gradual step above what currently exists will be much easier to get buy-in. It’s similar to business. A good business will offer something simple and new that isn’t too different to what’s currently out there, perhaps just doing one thing in a better way than their competitors. Overtime, their offering will improve, and might slowly begin to encapsulate all the things that may have originally made it a complex idea. However, what got it to such a place was the diamond idea - a slight nudge that got buy-in due to its clarity.
The extra work to get to a diamond idea will be rewarded in the simplicity of communicating it, and worth the increased chance of a senior stakeholder saying “Do you know what, let’s give this a go”.
5. Pitch clearly with a gripping hook
You’ve worked so hard to get to this stage and now it’s time to pitch your idea to senior stakeholders. Don’t go laissez-faire, really sell the idea - get people in the room excited and show just how excited you are about it - sell it with your enthusiasm.
Take time beforehand to build up a well-structured pitch. Start with a gripping hook, what will make people in the room turn their heads? Think about the heart of your idea and/or the problem you’re trying solve. Avoid making bland statements, give killer insights, facts or stories - you’ll need to sell it within the first few seconds to keep people listening for the rest of the pitch. Following your hook, explain your idea in one simple sentence. You can then go into the needs - why is this idea needed in the ‘here and now’? Then showcase your idea, go into a little more detail, but remember that it’s a diamond idea - it shouldn’t need lots of explaining. You can then sell the benefits of it, how will it influence the ‘there and then’ if the idea comes to fruition? Finally, make sure you talk about next steps. Tell everyone in the room what it is you want to happen next. Communicate a sense of pace and commitment to the process.
Remember to include your whole team in this process, don’t let one person chat through the whole thing - divide things up. Your audience will appreciate the team effort and will clearly see the passion that each person in the team has for the idea. Don’t be shy to talk about the process either, pin up your thought processes on the wall, starting from where you define the problem up to your proposed idea - create a visual story that people can follow and get excited about. Just remember to keep your pitch short and sweet.
Whilst collaborative innovation and design thinking is much about the process and methodologies, my over-aching learning from this course is that it is also just as much about establishing creative behaviours and effective facilitation. For me, good collaborative innovation is creating an open environment that allows for comfortable contribution from the whole team, whilst applying design thinking processes to it. What does good collaborative innovation look like for you? Let me know in the comments below.