The future of work needs facilitation: How Applied Creativity and Collaboration Techniques Transform Teams (and Why It’s Critical, Now)
The future of professional jobs is in transition: focus is shifting to integrative skill sets and workplaces that are self-organizing and inclusive, and away from both machinable skills and top-down hierarchies.
As technology increases automation and its reach over logistics, attention is turning to the roles of collaborative, human-centered products [Deloitte], judgement [McKinsey], and creativity [BBH labs], in innovative workplaces. This is an opportunity to build more human-centered organizations and focus on the lateral thinking that people are better at, but in order to transform towards this, individuals and groups will need to practice working collaboratively.
Applied creativity and collaboration techniques allow groups to:
- utilize the innovation and problem-solving potential of diverse thinking from diverse teams to work on more important things,
- deliver business value — and more meaningful work experiences,
- retain more staff and waste less time and resources,
- while authentically having some fun along the way.
How do we do this!? Facilitation is key to this future of work solution. Leaders, ICs, and collective members alike can learn to create inclusive teams with empathy, make decisions transparently, leverage creativity and expertise where it matters, and lead collaboratively.
Really — Empathy, collaboration, creativity, transparency, and facilitation? Yup — and don’t disparage them as soft skills: groups require these skills to deliver real value, solve the important problems, and create genuine staff and market engagement.
These are the skills that future-forward workplaces need in order to persist. Read on to learn why these skills are critical now, what you can do with them, and scroll to the end to learn a few techniques to start you off.
Work is Changing: Skills predictions and where to lead to
There is valid concern about how the future of work will impact jobs and work cross-sector, and examining predictions of the skills needed can help us understand what might transpire. A McKinsey report on the Future of Work points us to focus on “harder occupations and activities to automate, like care work and work that requires empathy, judgment, and so forth” [cite].
The World Economic Forum predicts immediate growth (and skills needed) in the following professional fields:
Deloitte’s recent Future of Work research tells us that “technology teams are shifting from traditional project- and process-focused operating models to those that are more product- and outcome-centric, which prioritize cross-functional collaboration, acceleration of time-to-customer value and other user/customer needs, and business outcomes.”
If your field is changing, or you want to work with a growing need, how might you create or transform your team to address this?
The Standard Road: Bad Meetings, Disillusioned Teams, and Frozen Outcomes with a side of Burndown
Creating groups, teams, and organizations is difficult, and in times of change it can seem like trying to catch up with a moving train. As outcomes needed, worker expectations, and organization structure is changing, how do you keep up?
First let’s look at what’s not working.
ROI: Wasting time is wasting resources.
The simplest return on investment that groups get from collaboration techniques is to reduce time wasted in meetings.
For example, 8 people who are paid $120k on average use $500/day, or $70/hour. Plus fringe. And tech/space. Let’s call it $100/hour. A single, 8-person, hour long meeting uses $800. Unless you get nothing done, and then that meeting lights $800 on fire. Plus the next $800 to have a meeting to clarify the meeting, and all the time spent backchanneling about how awful that meeting was.
Meetings that go nowhere can be expensive — but of course, a waste of time and money is only a surface-level problem.
INCLUSION: Diversity without inclusion is a waste.
Basic engagement and governance processes are tactics of both inclusion and efficiency.
When you’ve actively worked to create a diverse team which then fails to engage and include people, you’re losing opportunity. It’s becoming common to cite data on the business case for diversity, which finds that “diverse teams make better [business outcome] decisions up to 87% of the time [Forbes]” and HBR describe the value, “inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets.” It follows that including multiple perspectives, ideas and input on decisions from your diverse team could improve your outcomes, too.
Yet, both groups and leaders struggle to get this right.
The task is not just to collect a diverse team: it’s to get input from and listen to everyone in that team. Meetings in which ideas fail to be generated or move forward are symptomatic of a lack of inclusive innovation structures. Meetings in which decisions aren’t made are symptomatic of a lack of transparency and governance process. Why give input if it will go nowhere, or if your idea gets steamrolled by someone else and credited to them?
To restate: diverse teams create better outcomes — if they can do the work together. People want to contribute, as long as the group dynamics allow for it. When they can’t, the outcomes can be a tragic waste of people, resources, and opportunity. Enter, disillusionment.
Disillusionment breaks the creativity container.
You likely have your own experience, or a working concept, of what happens when a team’s dynamic tips over into more disillusioned than inspired: project slowdown, reduced creative input or commitment on projects, and staff retention issues creep in.
To rebuild a team one staff member at a time is expensive, given that the relative cost in recruiting and training to replace staff is anywhere from 50% of their salary according to EBN, to 100% according to GNA Partners [cite], to 150% of their salary according to Columbia University [cite].
Worse, the container you have for existing and new staff to contribute and create into may STILL be broken.
“Wait, what’s a container?”
It’s a facilitation term for the cognitive space in which groups operate. You may hear of containers spoken of in terms of “creating psychological safety,” or by reference to what can get done in a strong container: “vulnerability,” “radical candor,” or “design thinking” — a container is a group emotional experience, built by a group learning process. A strong container is needed for brave and innovative work to happen.
You can break it or you can build it, your choice. But without the opportunity to contribute outsider ideas, generate lateral thinking, and otherwise apply creativity, groups miss out on the highest-value opportunity: creative problem solving together.
The Path to Forge: Creative Containers, Connected Teams, and Innovation with a side of Sustainability
Creativity and innovation are the future-forward skills that grow in strong containers.
“Every company has access to one of the earth’s most powerful resources. Still, very few extract its full value: human capital or the skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by a company’s human employees. Cultivating creativity and curiosity in their workforces results in quantifiable gains for companies.” -Daniel Codella, Sigma
Have you ever been on a team that knocked it out of the park over and over, all with joy and jokes? It’s a beautiful thing to behold and nearly magical to be a part of.
Creating spaces for authenticity, autonomous contribution, and process for group-level creative insights puts you on track, and you can use Facilitative Leadership techniques to build amazing teams, strong containers, and sustainable orgs.
The tools: What you can try today to facilitate incredible experiences for innovation.
If you want your bottom line looking better, your people happier, and higher-value problems solved, it’s time to learn about facilitative leadership.
Start with the basics to build psychological safety inclusively:
- Have an agenda and stick to it: timebox topics of conversation and ensure that everyone knows the process for items going on and coming off the agenda.
- Include verbal, written, and visual information: Retaining information is a form of learning, and everyone on your team learns differently. So, design content and engagement activities that allow everyone to learn and share what they know.
- Make it crystal clear how and when decisions are made and by whom: build trust by sharing transparency around decisions, because this allows people to level set knowing how their input might be used.
Expand into creative and collaborative practice to build from trust to innovation:
- Have a protocol for engagement: What kind of input or ideas are expected?
- Leverage small group ideas and problem solving: If you have an issue that needs debate, cross-functional input, or if idea generation is your next step you can make greater contribution easier if your groups are smaller (2, 3, or 4 people). 10 or 15 minutes in a small group with an exercise to come back with two ideas to share can activate creativity and leverage diverse thinking.
- Give people the opportunity and an incentive to fail: Practice using a “yes, and…” instead of a “no, but…” in ideation; Give people runway to try out ideas and report back on what they learned; Give small Failure Bonuses or Risk-taker Awards for projects that were tested but DIDN’T succeed
Engagement is about authenticity and requires trust.
I’m a technologist and design strategist who works with tech startups, civic NGOs and cities, and social impact projects, but it’s my experiences as a theatre maker that I’m drawing on in closing: whether you’re creating an immersive live experience or a group problem solving session — real participation can’t be faked or bought, and there’s as long a list of ways by which you can alienate people as which you can engage them.
As we build groups, organizations, and new ventures, the question we have to contend with is: which experiences do you want the people around you to have?
In this time of transition, with huge problems to solve and opportunity spaces opening, replicating old work styles that create broken teams is irresponsible.
Deloitte reports that, as future of work technology rolls out, one of the concurrent business transformations is the practice of work. In professional disciplines, that will mean [creating] “a more fundamentally human and meaningful work experience.”
I am optimistic about the opportunity embedded in this time of transition to build inclusive and meaningful work containers — I hope you are too.
This is a segment from a book in-progress; follow me on twitter @HadassahDamien to stay tuned, or reach out to me and my team at Staircase Strategy if you want facilitative leadership coaching or training for your team.