Rock a 60-minute work session

There's a big difference between the way teams collaborate when they’re in a facilitated design workshop and when they’re left to their own devices.

In many instances the difference is clear, and there are observable behaviors that illustrate it: Is the team seated or standing? Are all teammates actively participating? Is there more action or talk of taking action? Are teammates rushing around or lallygagging?

I have a hypothesis around this: during a facilitated workshop each minute is accounted for. This means time and energy are shaped with enormous intention. On the other hand, a typical mid-week work meeting can be an amorphous, group-improvised mess that lacks energy, alignment, or action.

Frequently, when teams get a small dose of design thinking through a facilitated workshop, they walk away feeling as if they can embody design thinking in everything they do. That feeling often doesn't translate to a change in their mode of working, however. In other words, they might change the subject or setting of a meeting, for example, but not the way the meeting itself is conducted.

Some of the most highly-functioning design teams I’ve ever seen prioritize alignment around what mode of working they need to be in, for how long, and to what end. So, how can we give those new to design thinking the same tools and, more importantly, help them realize their creative agency in designing how their meetings are conducted?

Here's my attempt to act on my hypothesis and bridge the gap between experienced and novice design teams when it comes to conducting a great work session. Consider this little framework as a fill-in-the-blank guide and script that can be applied to any work session (and adapted in any direction to suit your needs):

(Adam Selzer)
(Adam Selzer)

Now, personally, I aim to have 5 or 6 hours every day where the designer in me feels truly activated. That said, I’m not a productivity guru, but I have seen some simple constructs that can be borrowed from workshop design (or class design) that could help teams achieve similar results in a meeting setting. 

The framework above might feel a little rigid or hokey at first. You might be thinking, "Aw! Cute. You want us to play a game before our meeting. Yeah, right.”), but maybe thats where the design leader in you needs to stand up and say: Yes, let’s play a game! You’re up first!

Adam Selzer is a designer, Stanford alum and a 2013-2014 d.school teaching fellow.