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Today there are so many collaboration tools to choose from when leading design thinking sessions and design sprints. At last count, our list is up to 25 different design thinking collaboration tools, including the most popular tools such as Mural and Miro. Unfortunately, I see so many innovation teams struggle to select the right collaboration tool and get the most out of the tool. What’s worse, the way teams end up using collaboration tools often ends up derailing good collaboration and distracting from the outcomes the team is trying so hard to realize.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe design thinking collaboration tools can be helpful. But they can’t replace strong design thinking facilitation skills. The most important collaboration tool in your design thinking toolbox is YOU! Great design thinking facilitators set the tone and create space for participants to experience breakthroughs.

It’s Time to Upgrade Your Facilitator Operating System

Apply these three principles to upgrade your operating system when facilitating design thinking sessions and design sprints:

  • Focus on outcomes over process. When planning a design thinking session, get clear about your desired outcomes from the beginning. What outcomes matter the most to your stakeholders and executive sponsors? Don’t let the collaboration tool decide for you. I have seen some teams assume that following the steps prescribed by the tool would guarantee a good outcome. Imagine that you’re a chef. I’m not a great chef myself, but I know that great chefs don’t mindlessly follow the recipe. Great chefs focus on the experience they want to deliver. For your next design thinking session, I want you to adopt the mindset of a great chef. Don’t just follow the recipe. Take time to identify the experience you want to deliver.
  • Create space for breakthroughs. Too often, facilitators rely on the collaboration tool to drive innovation. But the magic happens when the facilitator creates the conditions that allow participants to get out of their own heads and dream up new possibilities. During a recent design sprint, I challenged all the participants to interview at least one external customer. One of the IT leads participating in the sprint interviewed a customer for the first time ever. The customer’s feedback during the interview completely changed the IT lead’s view of the project. Moments like this are what I live for as a design thinking facilitator. Collaboration tools can help, but you need to design the session to foster breakthrough opportunities. Go into each session willing to challenge people to stretch their own boundaries.
  • Prioritize experience over tools. I see a lot of teams set up with a collaboration tool and then say “Okay, now we know what the experience will be like.” That’s backwards. You’re leading people on a journey. Define what experience you want them to have, and then have the tools support that. Think about what the group you’re working with needs. For example, if you’re running a design sprint across multiple teams, how are you deciding who’s in each team? Prioritize the experience over the tools. The goal is to use collaboration tools to help drive the experience, but not replace the experience.

Remember, the most important tool you have in your toolkit as a facilitator is YOU! That’s why it’s so important to focus on improving your facilitation skills. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the investment.

Download our innovation facilitator self-assessment worksheet to evaluate how you’re doing as a facilitator and uncover what areas to focus on to get to the next level!

And don’t miss our upcoming Innovation Leadership Masterclass, where we’ll go into more detail. Dive into leveling up as a facilitator and the mindset it takes to thrive as an innovation leader. Click here to register.