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Secrets of Highly Successful GroupsWith Design Thinking working towards a shared goal

By Karla Schlaepfer
design thinking, collaboration, teams, working together, company culture

How do a diverse group of people in a cross functional team learn to function with a single mind? What conditions are necessary so this connection can take place? How this shift can be used to create positive change in company culture and signal; here is a safe place to give effort?

One way to do this is creating the right group conditions. Here are some observations and insights inspired by group coachings and Design Thinking workshops. This is where a kind of safe place was established through different communication cues and good results were felt. My insights:

  • People discover they actually like the people behind the names—the “other guys” that they have previously only met on the phone or in meetings. They connect and are attentive.
  • There is more risk taking and playful experimentation with less blaming for setbacks.
  • There is more openness to new ways of working, like fast prototyping, to share future solutions.
  • It is intrinsically motivating it is for cross teams to work together well collaboratively.

Culture comes from cultus and means care

A respectful, learning company culture helps people close the gap from their working roles in the company to themselves as individuals. Caring is not only sharing; it activates empathy, self-organization and responsibility. This does not mean that constructive critic is ignored. Honest constructive criticism and feedback becomes part of the fabric of value-based group behavior. Ritualized feedback sessions like retrospectives are vital. Creating the conditions for people to experience the feeling of belonging is a powerful driver for change. These feelings tells the unconscious brain: here is a safe place to give effort.

Team on the field

There is no thinking without emotions

There are 3 main skills which help teams generate cohesion. And these are the 3 sections of Daniel Coyle’s book, “The Culture Code”. These skills tap into the power of our social brains to build group connection and channel this into action. In order to work, they should be practiced deliberately and repeatedly.

  1. Build psychological safety
  2. Share vulnerability
  3. Establish purpose

The overriding goal is to create a safe place where problems get investigated and solved—not ignored. It is okay to ask for help and make mistakes. It is essential to point out problems truthfully. This provide basis and clarity in order to learn and look for new ways to make things better. In fact, it is absolutely necessary.

The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled

— Danny Meyer

In creating groups or teams that are cohesive, signals are being sent that you as a person, belong here, you have a role and purpose to carry through. Some of these signals are often small; a personal question, calling someone by name, pointing out efforts to make something work and these sparks create impact, engendering engagement and growth.

2 people sharing a prototype

This is the kind of human-centered culture strived for with Design Thinking. Intuit, for examples, best known best for TurboTax and QuickBooks, has spent over a decade refining its own design process. According to Fast Company, the company’s key discovery is that design thinking is not about the roles that people occupy; it’s about people, and their interest to collaborate, be creative, participate, seek to understand, have empathy, and create solutions […] and the unexpected results that come with it.

Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal

I really enjoyed and learned from Coyles’ informative and powerful book. Certain parts resonated in particular. For example, when he emphasizes how exchanges of vulnerability, these awkward situations which we naturally tend to avoid, can be extremely useful in order to build trusting cooperation. He does this effectively by means of case studies and storytelling. And then he reveals his own personal experience which makes it even more authentic.

Design Thinking is an approach to creative problem solving that is widely recognized as a valuable guide to human-centered product and service innovation. It has been called a methodology, a culture, and a philosophy. Design thinking, fundamentally, recognizes that applied in this way design should achieve purpose and business goals, not beauty, but innovative, holistic solutions.

This Design Thinking process is by far, not the only way to create problem solve, or innovate. But it is a very good robust and variable process. When used right, it can help teams from any and all organizations build trust and collaborate. Taking this idea one step further, this pro-active human-centered approach can save the company or organization money by prototyping early in the cycle, to learn if individual and customer needs are uncovered, met and maybe even surpassed.

Would love to hear your views! Especially on creating team cohesion or stickiness!

All quotes from “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle