Ben Kay – UX Director at Cohaesus

You know those projects that need collaborative problem-solving as well as time and space to allow ideas to percolate? You know when you desperately want to book a meeting room to have a big discussion about a critical decision or juncture, but there aren’t any available until tomorrow? You know when you’re on the verge of an innovative breakthrough but then need to make some rushed decisions because your time in that precious meeting room has come to an end and out of the corner of your eye, you can see the next group lurking ominously outside? You know when you’ve finally had the meeting you so badly needed and as a group you’ve drawn that brilliant solution on a whiteboard or stickies; then someone takes a photo which ends up who knows where?

Many of us now work in open plan office spaces which purport to increase communication, but they do they really lend themselves to team based innovation? A team can almost be more disparate when they’re spread throughout an open-plan office. This combined with meeting rooms being at a premium and time blocked resource means that we try to solve everything in scheduled windows of opportunity.

You need a ‘war’ room

Some projects, teams and programmes deserve the space and dedicated working area to allow greatness to manifest over a period of time. Difficult, generative and important conversations need to happen when they need to happen, and scheduling them in three days time doesn’t always cut it.

We recently experimented with a dedicated project room when working with an exciting HR-tech startup and the effect it had on the quality of collaborative efforts was amazing.
It wasn’t easy – we had to find a space which we could make private, yet open and protect it from other teams taking it over for that ‘quick & important’ meeting. But we made it happen and it resulted in a superior output. It allowed us to:

  • Live stream user research into the room so we could all listen and discuss as a team.
  • Increase the fidelity and clarity of the problem over the course of a given sprint.
  • Solve the problem as a unit and capture much richer perspectives, solutions and insights.
  • Go and sit in a room with all team members together. If headphones were on we were focussed but we could easily spin around and contribute to a conversation at any point.
  • Avoid emailing and waiting for feedback which led to fewer misunderstandings.

The walls are alive

Having wall space that can be used to capture the collective view of the problem allows for a continually evolving landscape of stickies and scribbles. Post its, sketches and print outs are put up, discussed, moved around and tweaked with all involved. Because it was our own space it stayed up for the duration of the project and evolved from a mess of individual perspectives, to a unified view over the course of our time in the war room.

Collective genius

Getting cross disciplinary consensus is so hard when each individuals viewpoints are trapped inside everyone’s heads. No individual owned ‘drawing the document’ or version controlling the model, we all did it together and it was a true shared understanding. When it comes to complex problem solving, the power of the whole team is is absolutely greater than the sum of each part.

Space to breathe

Having a dedicated space to allow team members to flow easily from collaboration, to personal work and back, was so powerful. When someone hit an obstacle in their work, we would huddle and reflect on the problem, update the walls and then move onto the next problem.
These exchanges and transitions were seamless and noticeably improved the pace and quality of work. Clients and subject matter experts came by, and the whole process evolved again. A continual validation and correction of our collective understanding of the problem

Involving others

As well as the core team, others were invited to come and be curious. This allowed us to explain what we were doing and also vocalise to others outside of the team the problems we were working on. This has the dual effect of increasing the input and perspectives from other disciplines and individuals and by talking through our findings, helped clarify where we were solid and what still needed work.

Take a step back

Finally it is pretty amazing to see it all right there on the wall. We all started out with a limited perspective on the problem and we came together and created a solution. We could touch it and interact with it, which is so rare in the digital world that so many of us reside in.

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