Can design thinking be used in any collaborative process?

Design thinking looks at solving challenges by focusing on the end user rather than starting with the problem itself. It is a popular, proven way to target the most relevant solutions for the role a product or service ultimately needs to fulfil.

Many complex problems come up in business that need to be solved using a collaborative process. As design thinking offers a framework that can be used to approach a problem and find a solution through teamwork, it makes sense to look at whether it can be useful in whatever collaborative process you are thinking of.

What do we mean by design thinking process?

Design thinking has traditionally been associated with product and service design and has 5 main steps, or phases.

In the first phase, teams are encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of the user and empathize with their needs. This should help them gain a greater understanding of what the end user might need and any problems and aspirations they might have.

When teams have completed their research, they can work together to define the problem users are having. Once they have defined the problem they can begin the ideation phase.

Brainstorming in meetings and teamwork

The ideation phase typically involves brainstorming sessions around the carefully defined problem. The problem statement needs to be broad enough to allow creative ideas to be generated, but not be so broad that they are meaningless in the scope of the project. The more diversity there is in a team and the freer people feel they can be with offering ideas, the more creative the brainstorming session is likely to be.

These ideas can be evaluated, and the most viable, feasible, and desirable ones can be further developed by design teams. Working together, teams will come up with prototypes to see how these ideas will work in practice. They can be quickly tested and improved in subsequent iterations until they feel they have something ready to be shared with test users.

The final phase of the design thinking process is testing the prototype with users and then refining it based on their feedback. Only then will a product or service be considered ready to go into production/service.

How is the design thinking process collaborative?

The design thinking process encourages collaboration and teamwork throughout its five phases. It can involve teams from across an organization with different areas of expertise, as well as the targeted end users. Teams with different viewpoints and ideas can generate a wide range of ideas and perspectives, leading to more innovative and effective solutions.

Teamwork is essential in the design thinking process: without it, you can lack insight into different pitfalls, possibilities, and opportunities. As design thinking encourages creativity and exploration, teams can explore different ideas and take risks they may not otherwise consider. This creative approach can lead to more innovative solutions.

Can design thinking transform challenges requiring teamwork?

The design thinking process works on a collaborative basis so it can be used with teamwork exercises and in meetings. Although it is widely used to help develop innovative new products and services, this does not have to be the only reason to adopt its principles or use its processes.

Make your meetings more effective

Have you ever been in a meeting where no one is quite sure what the challenge is that you are actually discussing? Maybe some of the team have started talking about a particular problem but you thought the issues laid elsewhere. Talking at cross purposes and not fully understanding what the problem or challenge is that needs to be addressed can be a basic issue for some teams.

Defining the problem in a meeting

If a problem needs to be defined properly before any attempt at finding a reasonable solution can be made, the design thinking process can be applied regardless of whether or not the end goal is to create a new product or service. Maybe there is a problem with something internally, but your team cannot agree on what it is: try going back to the drawing board to define the problem.

Defining the problem may be relatively simple in this example. Maybe a discussion and the help of an online whiteboard or another collaborative tool will be enough to get to the crux of the matter. This might be sufficient to ensure everyone is on the same page and able to agree on the challenge being faced. Having a shared understanding and vision of what you are all trying to achieve can make the team much more productive.

Take a step back

Alternatively, maybe the team needs to go back another step and take a look at the pain points and needs before defining the problem: it will depend on the circumstances. This is where collaborative tools to create personas can often be helpful, for example.

If you have a team with a clearly defined challenge, there are many ways in which design thinking can be applied at this point if the problem is open ended and complex.

Efficient brainstorming sessions to find innovative answers

Meetings that involve solving one of these types of problems would benefit from a brainstorming session, where everyone is encouraged to put forward their ideas without thinking them through. If you think about solutions that pop into to your head for too long, they might seem ridiculous. This means you might not put them forward.

Creating a team environment where no idea is too far-fetched can lead to more creativity and innovation. By using design thinking, teams can generate a wide range of ideas and perspectives, explore different possibilities, and challenge assumptions: this doesn’t necessarily happen in a lot of meetings, even though the idea might be to work as a team.

Prototyping and testing as a collaborative process

In most organizations new products, services, and ways of working are introduced all the time. People often resist change, especially if it is significant or requires them to do something differently. Often the change is not the problem so much as the way it has been communicated. On other occasions, perhaps the change is unnecessary or burdensome.

Prototyping and testing collaboratively – between departments, if necessary, and involving the end user from the beginning of the process – can help avoid some of these problems.

Teamwork and collaboration can present their own problems – and solutions

Different teams that work together are not always able to communicate effectively. Maybe they come from unrelated disciplines and just view the world differently, or perhaps they feel they are in competition. Teamwork is a collaborative process and just like any collaborative process, it can be not that easy sometimes.

The design thinking approach values input from as many sources as possible, regardless of seniority or perceived wisdom. Ensuring all members of the team have equal say and are taken seriously not only allows for more innovative and creative ideas to be generated, it also builds on the sense of team. Everyone feels involved, valued, and heard. It can help build a team bond.

For design thinking to be effective, it is important to have the right team mindset and culture. This is also true for collaborative processes. The one influences the other. Teams that are hierarchical, rigid, and risk-averse may struggle to implement design thinking effectively. The good news is they can use design thinking tools to build the sense of team and encourage teamwork on a wider field.

Can we apply design thinking to all collaborative processes?

The design thinking process can be extremely effective as a methodology for many projects and throughout various stages of certain projects or initiatives. However, it may not be suitable for every working stage or team, depending on the context, the team, and the problem being addressed. This does not mean that many aspects of design thinking are not useful at points in most collaborative processes.

The stages used during the design thinking process – empathizing, problem definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing, can be applied to any collaborative process. By using design thinking, teams can develop a shared vision of what they wish to achieve, generate a wide range of ideas and perspectives, create prototypes, and test solutions.

Within the stages of design thinking there are many collaborative tools that aid the process, and these can be utilized to great effect by teams regardless of the overarching project.

Design thinking collaborative tools for better teamwork

Using customer or employee personas can help you understand them better and thereby get a deeper understanding of how they will be using your product and service. This makes it easier to come up with relevant, feasible ideas for the direction in which the finished product will need to go: 

  • Customer persona templates can help teams drill down into the detail and work out to whom they are selling.
  • Brainstorming builds a sense of team and can lead to exciting ideas and innovation: there are also various online templates and ideas that you and your teams can use. 
  • Mind maps are a visual tool that help to connect and organize ideas and concepts. 
  • Empathy maps look to understand the emotions, behaviors, and motivations of the user. 
  • Storyboards can be used to tell a story or illustrate a concept and can be useful to make ideas come alive.

Using design thinking to maximize collaboration

To maximize collaboration it helps to understand the needs, challenges, and perspectives of everyone involved in the project. Team members may not be the end user, but they are just as important if the process is going to work well and create useful, innovative ideas. Empathy is at the basis of design thinking. Encouraging understanding and empathy will help team members to better understand each other as well as the clients or users for whom they are creating products and services.

Working together to define a problem can be useful in meetings and in workshops. After all, until you know what the problem really is, how do you find the best answer? This is critical for collaboration and helps ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.

If you are doing something that involves brainstorming ideas and then creating prototypes to explore the best ideas for the solution, you can maximize the usefulness of these activities. By using collaborative tools that encourage all the best aspects of design thinking and the qualities of the team, you can work towards innovative solutions that have the end user’s needs at their heart.

Testing and iteration require high degrees of collaboration. Team members will need to interact and give and receive feedback without worrying about it becoming a problem. This is a great way to build good practices among team members. Trust and transparency among teams is key.

Communication is a key part of the design thinking process. Many of the tools commonly used help and promote good communication skills. Feedback and continuous improvement opportunities can also work to build a sense of team, reinforcing the process.

In order to maximize collaboration, it is vital to establish a culture of openness and trust. Everyone's ideas need to be valued so that no one feels they cannot comfortably share their own thoughts and feedback.

With online tools at a team’s disposal, efficient remote collaboration is possible as well, and will help to ensure that team members do not feel marginalized. With so many people working remotely or on a hybrid basis now, it is important to ensure that everyone can participate fully in team meetings and workshops.

Design thinking is a powerful approach that can be used to maximize collaboration in teams. With the right culture of openness and trust, and the best tools and technology to support teamwork and collaboration, teams can work together more effectively and produce better outcomes.

At Klaxoon we have many online resources you and your teams can use to improve your teamwork efficiency, using design thinking techniques. Why not see how we can help by visiting our resources page?

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