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Teamwork by Design: Four Ways to Better Collaborate

What should you do if you need to build a team fast? Community engagement in a workspace can feel like herding cats, or even alligators. Collaboration should have an air of fun and levity, while also keeping its structure. What are some methods that you can use at your nonprofit, tech company, university, or even at a mom-and-pop store?


Here’s a snapshot of how to generate a meaningful and effective collaboration session:

1. Drop the titles.

Nothing is more off-putting than hot shots who think they’re hot shots. When you work as a team, make a conscious effort to toss the job titles, degrees, ego, judgement, and instead build as one.

2. Build a space and begin your recess.

Collaboration often entails moving furniture. Clear out the chairs! Make people stand. People think better and at a more rapid pace while on their feet. Lay out paper, pens, and Post-its on tables to make people share their ideas. Then, post these thoughts on a “board of ideas” and come back together as a group.

3. Move people closer to the board of ideas.

Some people tend to be cautious and hang back rather than jump into a collaborative session. A designer named Joe Brown teaches a trick to get people to engage by moving objects behind the team: use tables or large objects so that people can’t back away from the Board of Ideas. In a tighter space, people hesitate to move to the back of the room; instead, this physical hurdle encourages people to add new ideas to the collaborative session.

4. “Yes, and” is the most important rule at the start of collaboration.

At Stanford’s d.school, students and executives move into the design thinking sessions by setting the tone for a collaborative mindset by playing a game called “Yes, and.” This game goes like this:

Say an idea and the next person must build upon that idea. For example:

(Person 1) “We are going on a hot-balloon ride and I’ll bring some figs.”

(Person 2): “Yes, and I will bring the water guns.”

(Person 3): “Yes, and after that we will write a story about the adventure.”

The “Yes, and” framing helps the group to build upon each person instead of blocking the collaborative spirit, which, at its infancy, is the genesis of a fine teamwork session.

5. Open up, democratize and refine.

Collaboration sessions have a strong affinity for thick pens and colorful Post-its. After people post their thoughts on the board of ideas, have the group vote on the best ideas using even smaller colored Post-it notes. A democratic method helps people to find equal footing in the voting process and bring the group towards a more united goal in the collaboration.

Here's to more opportunities to build and learn, both at work and the playground of life.

Image courtesy of BRUTE LABS

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