Co-creation for Effective Leadership Training

By Dianne Miller and Emily Ricci - May 06, 2017

To conclude our series of posts on design thinking for more effective leadership training, we’ll dive a bit deeper into the fourth rule of design thinking: co-create to reach a shared vision.

Co-creating, or working side by side with client teams in design thinking sessions, means we create experiential learning activities as a cohesive group. Everyone in the room participates in these sessions—even if it’s not their domain or they aren’t responsible for a leadership training program’s ultimately delivery.  Because everyone participates in the process, both teams can converge on a shared vision.

It’s also important to begin the project with co-creation in mind. We’ve learned that client partnerships beginning with a goal of collaborating on a solution are the most successful and satisfying from relationship management and product development standpoints.

Introducing the idea of co-creation can be tricky when you’re a leadership development consultant. After all, if you’ve been engaged to solve a problem but instead choose to enlist stakeholders to co-create work products, they may be resistant and openly question your methods, or claim that “design by committee” doesn’t work.

Setting strong expectations for co-creation is important to ensuring buy-in on the process. A strong facilitator who can successfully lead rapid idea generation, real-time evaluation, and systematic iteration on the best ideas from even a skeptical audience is a valuable asset.

We take a number of steps to enable successful co-creation:

  •        Invite the right people to be part of the process, and invite people who might have different perspectives on the problem and solution. Leaving dissenters out at the beginning may derail your efforts later on when it is expensive and time-consuming to make changes.
  •        Don’t overvalue an expert opinion. While one party in the process may seem to have all of the answers, the goal for everyone involved in the solution is to understand the same things at the same time. Many design thinking exercises are designed to mitigate the “expert effect.”
  •        Set ground rules for working together. Determine what will make you successful and establish expectations around contributions to your process.
  •        Ask the same question many times but in a slightly different way—you’ll determine what a group agrees on a lot faster than if you save gaining agreement until the very end.
  •        Push your group to get to a working vision for the solution sooner than you believe you’re ready—it’s easier to reject something half-baked on paper than fully baked in real life. Find ways to test out with your audience small aspects of the vision.
  •        Use available tools to gather opinions on emergent design—for example, use an electronic survey to test how well your ideas might be received by the target population.
  •        Don’t assume that once you achieve a shared vision your work is done—it’s easy to diverge over time, and small deviations can grow quickly.

Co-creation can be challenging; it feels different from what a client or stakeholder is used to, but it’s worth it. The best leadership development programs are born when teams work together for a couple of hours or days creating work product together. This doesn’t just make them good partners; it means that all members of the teams understand and process the same information at the same time. Enabling convergence in this way helps everyone reach a shared vision, which will make your experiential learning activities that much more successful.


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