As collaboration practitioners and facilitators, we use plenty of sticky notes in our work but are we using them as well as we can? This collaboration method presented by Autodesk’s Tom Wujec (and originally from XPLANE’s Dave Gray) is a simple but very useful practice for combining key concepts from design and collaboration – iteration, shared representation and cocreation – to ensure that your group’s sticky noting results in more creative, more robust and more accepted solutions.
As the attached blog post from Mural describes, idea generation and model making is like Scrabble. One of the basic strategies of Scrabble is to organise and re-organise your set of 7 tiles on your tray to identify new word possibilities. The small, mobile tiles readily facilitate this process. It takes discipline to continue to re-organise your tiles and model new word possibilities rather than going with the first word that comes to mind. The same dynamic plays out when generating ideas and creating system models. It is tempting to converge upon and accept the first representation of our ideas and models that makes intuitive sense to you or your group.
The reality is that this first representation will rarely be the best option in terms of generating useful patterns, insights and solutions. The more time consuming, but ultimately more valuable approach is to push yourself and your team to test your ideas and models by shuffling and re-shuffling them in many new and unusual ways to see what other patterns and ideas emerge – just like tiles on a Scrabble board.
This is facilitated by two other processes: feedback and having ‘flexible nodes’. As a group creates a new map of their ideas, it is instructive to elicit critique and testing – especially from other groups – to feed into a next iteration and refinement of ideas and models. ‘Flexible nodes’ like scrabble tiles and post-it notes are fast and easy to move around and as such increase the likelihood that groups will play around with and re-model their ideas in new and interesting ways, especially if challenged by a good facilitator!
At Collabforge we define ‘Collaboration’ as “add/edit/delete rights to a shared pool of content”. We also believe that shared understanding and vision within a group are key premises for collaboration to occur. This becomes increasingly important but also more challenging in the scenario of mass collaboration – scaling collaboration along dimensions such as increasing numbers of people, time zones and increasingly complex problems.
One simple and effective way to facilitate this shared understanding is through the creation of shared representations of a group’s thinking. This may be as simple as a shared document or drawing, but can also be a sticky note ‘map’ of ideas. The very process of creating this shared representation makes explicit any knowledge gaps, key assumptions and differences in opinion, perspective and priority within the group.
This group ‘downloading’ and visible representation of ideas provides the foundation for valuable sense-making and alignment conversations within the group, and ultimately the aforementioned iteration of the shared representation of the group’s thinking.
Having the group create and iterate shared representations of their ideas and solutions together delivers two powerful outcomes.
- Firstly the group will, after a number of rigorous rounds of feedback and iteration, converge on a synthesis of their ideas as a more holistic model rather than a loose assembly of ideas.
- Secondly, because they embarked on an emotional and cognitive journey in creating their ideas and models together it is much more likely that the group will have a strong sense of ownership and commitment to their ideas and solutions.
This is a powerful platform from which the group can create plans and drive action together, especially in the more distributed work settings beyond an initial workshop.
Check out the TEDx talk, website and blog post by Mural.Ly here:
We’d love to hear any stories of when you have successfully applied a technique like this – or any other – to help a group collaborate.