Collaborative Design Is a Tool for Change: Here’s How It Helps Teams Succeed

Written by 
Coeuraj Insight
November 2022

With talks of a global recession, a difficult reality is setting in. Once again, workplaces of all kinds must find firmly footed success with less time, resources, and morale, all while managing prolonged, pandemic-induced fatigue. Departments have had to shape-shift while organizational and business mandates evolve to meet unstable market conditions. These constant changes have led to internal challenges at a time when coordinated strategy and execution are needed most.

Numerous studies point to the importance of collaboration in the workplace. But in the age of “over-collaboration,” the problem isn’t that teams aren’t collaborating, but that they lack the ability to do so effectively and consistently. 

Good collaboration doesn’t happen by simply increasing the number of emails or meetings; it happens through intentional, informed planning. And that’s where collaborative design comes in. In short: collaborative design is a facilitated process that brings stakeholders together to reach shared outcomes.

Here are four ways that collaborative design helps ensure a team’s success

Collaborative design builds common ground so teams can work towards the right outcomes from the start

Bringing people together through a facilitated process, like collaborative design, ensures that participants spend less time wondering what they should be doing and more time pursuing outcomes.

Collaborative design sprints typically begin with the development of a “journey map” that visually lays out key stakeholders, activities, and timelines involved in a process. A journey map illustrates, at a high-level, who is going to be involved in the process, how they are going to be involved, and when they will be involved. It takes out the guesswork that comes with unstructured, ad-hoc collaboration that most teams are accustomed to.

What a journey map doesn’t do is strong arm conclusions about what the “right” outcomes are and what the “best” vision is that participants need to rally around—that’s for participants to decide together at the start of their journey, and continually iterate on as the work progresses in real-time.

Collaborative design accelerates outcomes by optimizing decision-making 

Often, the prospect of making decisions in complex situations leaves people in a state of freeze or locked in a stalemate with others who may have a different view of the path forward. A litany of questions plague teams trying to make progress but are unsure of next steps. How do we know when a firm decision needs to be made? Who do I need to involve in decision-making when there’s no clear lines of accountability, and how do we communicate decisions made to impacted stakeholders? What happens if I don’t agree with the final decision made?

While collaborative design helps teams build common ground, it also plants the seeds for proactive, inclusive decision-making that in turn, enables teams to reach better outcomes faster.

Collaborative design empowers participants to ideate together in the moment, as opposed to doing so through belaboured, backchannel communication. Working together through collaborative design sprints accelerates feedback cycles, and nurtures transparency and shared ownership over the decisions that are made in the room.

There’s no complicated science to reveal here: when diverse team members are brought into the same problem-solving journey, they can openly discuss opportunities, gaps, and shifts that may trigger the need for certain decisions to be made. They are also able to tap into each other’s wisdom to make better-informed decisions, too. And this approach is backed by research that shows that diverse teams make stronger decisions, and teams actively engaged in decision-making processes are ultimately “happier” and drive increased performance.

Collaborative design identifies opportunities for innovation while managing risk

Innovation takes place when people are given the license to think outside of the box with a community of co-conspirators and can disrupt the status quo without the fear of getting stuck in red tape. Creativity blooms when people can draw on the collective intelligence and diversity in the room, instead of solely relying on singular insights laced with personal bias. So, it’s no surprise that effective collaboration is linked to increased innovation.

For the many organizations and companies that find themselves “building the plane while flying it,” collaborative design balances this need to creatively explore new possibilities and trial innovations with the need to provide structure to identify risks, from operational risks to interpersonal ones, before solutions are fully implemented.

In reality, innovation and risk management are closely connected. Highly creative and innovative teams are ones that can take calculated risks, while proactively addressing barriers to ensure that an oversight doesn’t become a large-scale issue down the line.

Participatory processes, like collaborative design, that solicit a breadth of voices increase a team’s ability to identify risks by breaking down echo chambers that zero in on select risks while ignoring others that may not be immediately visible or typically valued in previous decision-making circles. 

Collaborative design builds human-driven solutions and cultures of trust

There are several tangible benefits to collaborative design as discussed: projects start from a place of shared understanding and team buy-in, better decisions are made faster, innovation is welcomed while risks are proactively managed...but there are also intangible benefits that help teams develop a track record of success.

When people have a hand in creating the solution to a problem they face, they have a vested interest in following through. When real problems that real people face are put in focus, decision-making will inherently emerge from a more human place that resonates past the goal of increasing the bottom line or fulfilling funder requirements.

When teams collaborate effectively and consistently, they foster greater trust amongst themselves and deepen the trust they hold towards their organization or company. Team members develop new levels of respect for one another and cultivate reciprocal relationships that feed a shared drive to succeed as a collective not as a group of solo operators. Diversity is seen as a non-negotiable input that builds inclusive, high-performing teams that sustain long-term impact. 

Over time, the very culture of a workplace can be reshaped. Should an organization or company navigate change and evolve to meet the demands of the moment, it is being supported by a healthy, resilient foundation that’s carried forward team by team, project by project.

Collaboration isn’t easy, but when approached with intention, it catalyzes team success

Collaborative design is a Swiss Army knife that helps teams solve a variety of problems and achieve impactful outcomes through a set of carefully designed experiences.

Within the arms of collaborative design, everyone is held as an important contributor, and even the most complex, systemic challenges can be broken down into more manageable pieces for teams to tackle. 

As the world braces for more change—and uncertainty—there’s no better time for organizations and companies to figure out how to leverage the power of collaboration once and for all.

At Coeuraj, we help teams collaborate to achieve their goals and deliver value for their communities, stakeholders, and systems. Our collaborative design practitioners are here to guide your team through its next big challenge or decision-making cycle.

Reach out to learn more about how we can support you.

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