10 Golden Rules of Design Thinking: Promoting collaboration and innovation in your teams

Design thinkingI have “talked” about Design Thinking in this blog many times as a great tool to promote innovation both at company, project and team level. There are toolkits to adapt it to social innovation projects and for educators and for social entrepreneurs.

I have used it in different settings, both with students at  university and in workshops (our Labs for Change) as well as with project teams. I have also recently followed a course on the subject organized by Standford. From these experiences I have come up with 10 key guidelines that can easily be applied if you want to use Design Thinking to promote innovation.

1. Run a multidisciplinary team


Only when you have a multidisciplinary team in which people with different skill-sets and experiences work towards a common goal can you be truly innovative. The whole team should participate in creative activities from the beginning of the project.

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together” (African proverb).

2. Be a facilitator and mediator

Play the role of facilitator and enabler for your team. Give them greater autonomy in expressing their enthusiasm, genius, creativity, and energy. Your task is to support and motivate them. Use your network to help the team find the right interview partner for all topics. Use your connections to help your team overcome organizational hurdles and protect them from outside pressure. Clearly and openly communicate your goals and expectations, as well as those of your stakeholders. Ensure that decisions from stakeholders are clear to the team. On the other hand, you should also listen attentively to your team and communicate their research findings, opinions, and concerns to  stakeholders. And finally motivate and cheer your team on!

trust puzzle3. Challenge and trust your team

Trust your team to come up with the right solutions. Challenge and encourage them to envision even more crazy and innovative solutions, and trust that they will select the best ones. Give your team members the time and opportunity to stretch their skills and develop mastery.

4. Plan for uncertainty

uncertaintyDesign thinking is a journey in uncharted waters; there will be many suprises that can dramatically impact your project. When starting an innovation project, leave enough space for new and unexpected outcomes. Your team’s research may uncover unforeseen opportunities that can only be realized if you are able to reframe the scope of the project and iterate on it. It is your task to let the team move in the most promising direction.

5. Stimulate learning and exploration

Design thinking, and innovation in general, requires the exploration of new spaces and learning of new truths. This doesn’t come naturally to all teams. Make learning and exploration a necessity for everybody, including yourself. On the one hand, ask the team to come out of their comfort zone, explore, and learn. And on the other hand,  enable them to do so by giving them the appropriate time and budget.

6. Promote consciousness of the innovation process

Leading an innovation team means being familiar with innovation processes. You need to know when and how to apply them. Additionally, be open to challenges and new perspectives. Being a successful agent for innovation in your team implies that you are capable of consciously changing your own perceptions, if needed. Having a solid understanding of the process and the right perspective will help you to champion your team in all steps of the innovation process.  In the picture below you can find the processes of the Design Thinking process.


7.Encourage a feedback culture

Honest feedback from your team, users, and other stakeholders offers an opportunity to improve yourself and your solution. Encourage team members to find ways to receive feedback. Don’t worry that this might slow down the process. It will only shape and evolve the concept over time, making it more meaningful. And in the end it will save you time.

8. Foster a creative atmosphere

Creativity requires time, the right environment, and the right atmosphere. Your task as a manager is to provide your team with the means to be creative. Leave room for experiments to try out new tools and methods, and provide a creative space that supports inventive thinking.

9. Follow the team’s insights

Design research and exploration can lead to the challenging of some strong assumptions and opinions. Be brave and support your team when challenging old truths. The confidence with which you defend your team will be a deciding factor in bringing their work to fruition. It will also show your team that their work is worthwhile and important and that you believe in it.

10. Celebrate success and failures

I think this is especially important. Failing early is a blessing in disguise. Recognize this and help the team focus on the important new insights that come from these early failures. Have a little team party for both successes and failures/learning.

More about Design Thinking in this blog:

Download for free my Manual on How to use Design Thinking for Social Innovation Projects. 

How to use design thinking for Social Innovation Projects

Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators

A video that summarizes the methodology:

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