Community of colleagues as a service

The superpower of collaboration – part 1

What makes you 3x better at your job? I can only think of one answer. Your colleagues.

I consider myself a very lucky designer. All my working life I have been surrounded by talented and experienced peers. In creative work and problem solving, an interplay of multiple viewpoints and a culture of open dialogue are the best way to reach better results. They also sharpen your own critical thinking.

During recent years, the value of a great community has become more and more evident for me.

Firstly, projects I work with have become increasingly complex and challenging. Service design work has grown deeper into impact making – into behavioural change, organisational change, and into transforming whole industries. Tackling immigrant youth unemployment in Finland or helping a manufacturing company to master service mindset in Asia are challenges that cannot be solved with blueprints or fancy frameworks. We consultants are forced get our hands dirty and work together with other specialists.

Secondly, at the same time, I have spent a lot of time on the road, away from the community of colleagues. To get back home, or to able to plug in to the community virtually, to receive and to give help, has become an experience that I value more than ever. At such moments, great leaps of thinking happen and new, fresh viewpoints open knots that have seemed unsolvable. It’s empowering to feel your own thinking to be leveraged through dialogue. It makes one feel both one’s own worth, and the worth of a community as a service.

Open interface empowers collaboration

When our design unit was 50 people strong, we used to introduce our team to a client project in the format of 4+46. This was done to emphasise the value that the client would get from working with a community consisting of a variety of backgrounds and specialities. Versatility in thinking tends to highly correlate with a richness of ideas, as well as their relevance.

46+4 was not only a promise. The flexibility for getting help and sparring, and the open interface for picking each other’s brains around the communal kitchen area became our everyday reality. It has strongly shaped our approach to working with complex problems and taught us to constantly challenge our own thinking and ways of working. Even if something is great, there’s always a possibility for the next iteration. This has helped us to grow and to work with challenges that earlier seemed too big to take on.

It has also made work more fun, and made me feel a better designer, one who can create more meaning. Now, as a result of orbiting in the distance from the physical community, I have often been painfully aware of the importance of such an interface. Working with various client organisations, I have also come to notice that such positive experiences about one’s community are not given. An organisation can also feel more of a hindrance than a service. It is a privilege to feel leveraged by people you meet every morning.

Collaboration is encoded in culture

To learn to use the interface and to plug in to the skills of your colleagues can be a lengthy process. In a service design type of craft, many people feel that you need to get to know one another personally through working side-by-side. And as the community grows, things naturally get more complicated. A bigger community means maintaining a vast network of connections and putting time aside to develop some common ground and to trust new colleagues. At the same time, a big community with various skillsets and personalities offers a wider platform and more potential for unseen and game changing collaborations.

Culture, ways of working and careful recruitment can facilitate the power of a connecting interface.

In our community, I have always been surprised by how smoothly one can jump into the game with new colleagues and start to play the ball together. They already wear the same shirt and know the toolbox of tactics. And we see the goal. Not much else is needed. As long as everyone on the team shares similar values and some common language, the best way to learn to collaborate is actually by just working together. Moments like these, both with new and old colleagues, are the greatest source of joy in my work.

Two years ago, I received 600 new colleagues overnight. Nowadays, we are much more than a design consultancy. This has opened a new horizon of opportunities to getting my own input scaled and leveraged by multidisciplinary project teams. It allows us to chase bigger and nuttier problems, and to aim for a greater impact and relevance. I couldn’t imagine a much more exciting setup and playground for a designer who wants to work in the place where the future is happening.

To master these new collaborations, we need to re-design parts of our open interface.

To facilitate seamless plug-in experiences with a wider community, we need more focus on the right mindset and skills. Part 2 of this blog post will discuss the collaboration across disciplines.

Reima Rönnholm is a service designer. He is priming himself to become as curious about technology as he is fascinated by the human mind and behaviour. At Solita, we are the advocates, specialists and craftsmen of new technologies. We focus on impact – with a winning time to value – through our superpower of interdisciplinary collaborations.