How to kickoff your team project: what research says [and template]

In this post, I’ll explore some of what the research says about creating great teams, and what you should include in your project kickoff as a result. At the end of the post you can download a PDF template for you to plan your next session.

If the future of work is about small, multidisciplinary and temporary teams (sometimes called The Hollywood Model) then knowing how to launch projects in the right way will be even more important. This way of working will require teams to align quickly and spring into action. The need for highly effective project kickoffs has never been greater.

Luckily, there’s increasing amounts of research available about what makes a great, creative and productive team, and you can use this to structure a successful kickoff session. It’s all about tapping into the expertise of the team and creating a good plan for how you’re going to work together.

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Four skills that will help you to facilitate effective workshops

When it comes to facilitating great workshops, there is always room to improve and introduce new techniques to your sessions. It’s an ongoing learning process and you’ll discover more exercises to try, gain more confidence, and get better at reading the energy in the room.

But how do you find opportunities to practice your facilitation skills?  It may not be possible for you to run workshops as frequently as you’d like to experiment and try new methods.

Through my experience, I’ve identified four areas that can make a huge difference to the success of your workshops. The advantage is that they are mostly skills that you can practice on a regular basis (and also improve) in your work, with your colleagues and in collaborative projects.

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How to set the mood for collaboration

Image credit: O Palsson on Flickr

Did you know that the words you use can have an impact on how your team works together? Leigh Thomson, author of Creative Conspiracy: the new rules of breakthrough collaboration, found that asking people to read statements that include specific words can either encourage them to focus on themselves, or on others:

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One way to boost creativity in your team

It doesn’t matter how creative a person thinks they are, if they’re not able to share their knowledge and expertise amongst their team mates, they won’t have confidence that the team can be creative too.

For research carried out as part of his Msc in Organisational Psychology in 2013, Business Psychologist Jonti Dalal-Small identified that a team’s collective belief in how creative they are can be boosted by 50% if there was a good shared knowledge of who knows what.

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Thinking in opposites: a workshop idea

One of my favourite tasks is finding and designing activities for workshops that will get participants thinking and working together. The more workshops you run, the more you’ll look for inspiration from all places to create these.

You might come across a story or case study, a game or an interesting question that gives you an idea for an activity you can run with your team or client to stretch their thinking.

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How to get the best out of your team for more creativity

Achieving great collaboration is often a tricky balance between encouraging individuals’ expertise, and getting everyone working together as a team.

In “Collective Genius: the art and practice of leading innovation” the authors describe this as one of the paradoxes of collaboration “affirming the individual and the group”. They explain how leaders need to:

“encourage and support the individuals in their groups because they are the source of ideas that constitute the raw material of innovation. Yet the ultimate innovation will almost be a collective outcome, something devised through group interaction. Rarely will it be the result of one person’s flash of insight”.

New challenges are popping up each day that can only be solved by bringing together multiple viewpoints. But the starting point will always be the skills and knowledge that each team member brings.

So what can you do to acknowledge each person’s input and get the best out of your team?

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Can you design your way to great collaboration?

What if companies started applying the same design principles they use to develop great products and services, to design collaboration in their teams? I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and this post is a collection of early thoughts and some good articles I’ve come across recently.

With the growing awareness of design thinking, it’s clear that design is not just something that is stuck on the end of a project to make things look nice. Companies are now using it at a more strategic level, and it’s permeating through all departments. Companies like Apple, Airbnb and Pinterest are all championed for their design attitude.

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Facilitating your first workshop? Start here.

You’re about to run your first client workshop. There will be quite a few people coming and it seems like a daunting task. You’ve been a participant in some really great workshops before, but you’re not quite sure how the facilitator did it – they seemed to work some kind of magic.

But facilitation is not some kind of “mystical” talent that a few people have. It’s a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. From my own experience, I’ve seen that there are three stages to building confidence and skills in workshop facilitation. In this post, I’ll break them down so you know where to start.

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What I’m learning about collaboration from social psychology

Late last year, I took Social Psychology on Coursera which is a course run by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University. I took the course more for personal interests, but it also had the benefit of helping me to understand more about collaboration. Social psychology is defined as “the scientific study of how people think about, influence and relate to one another”, and during the course I learned that we have various tendencies that can impact our efforts to create and innovate together.

I realised that there are even more reasons to consider the conditions that support great collaboration in the workplace, rather than just putting people in teams and hoping for the best.  There are theories which explain behaviour from individual to group level – here are some that I picked up from the course and a few other sources:

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