Embracing autonomy & ambiguity in collaborative teams

In a previous post we reflected on the ways we’ve kept our values at heart our work, particularly in the recent work we’ve done with Bloomberg Philanthropies on their Mayors Challenge programme. In this piece, we reflect on more of the creative methods used throughout the project that brought to life some of our shared values.

Space for creative autonomy

Telling the story of 35 cities across the USA is no small task, so it was important for our six-person team to divide and conquer. In its early stages, we held a team session to establish roles and responsibilities. We found the use of a ‘vision house’ tool most effective in helping visualise our shared vision (the roof) and how the different workstreams and outputs support that vision (body and base of the house). Each teammate owned one or more work streams and was guided by a single vision: to demonstrate the power of design through the stories of 35 US cities each using prototyping to address the most pressing issues of our time.

This distribution of responsibility meant everyone felt ownership and accountability for our workstreams and the projects overall planning and delivery. This gave us the autonomy to shape and lead the creative direction of part of the work, whilst having a shared understanding of what we collectively want to achieve at the end.

Embracing ambiguity

It’s important to have fun at work. Particularly as many of our projects are complex and long-lasting. However, having fun at work is more than a team pub trip (although also important!). We have to enjoy the work we do and find moments for fun amidst complexity and ambiguity over long periods.

It’s been amazing how well we’ve dealt with and thrived amid high degrees of ambiguity on this project. At the beginning of the process, we’d agreed on loose outputs, that needed to be steered by the emerging stories from the 35 cities. We’ve done a U-turn on project outputs, scrapped work that isn’t working and used a bunch of creative methods to give tangibility to the project outcomes. For example, a ‘Postcards to a City’ exercise, where we wrote a short story or learning that could be sent between cities. It was a simple exercise that got us quickly finding stories in raw data and communicating them.

There’s lots of space within our work to lose our way in the complexity and ambiguity. Sometimes, the simplest of creative methods can help take a step forward while helping us enjoy trying to solve the problem at hand.

‘Postcards to a City’ exercise

Walk the talk

It’s important to practice what we preach. If we are encouraging organisations to transform the way they work, we have to showcase the same principles in our delivery. Our values need to be shared, understood, encouraged and lived across the organisation.

Using quick creative approaches in the way we deliver work brings teams together, makes the work fun and helps give clarity where it may be lacking. These methods can push us to use our imagination and encourage radical thinking about the future.

This post was co-written, alongside Robbie Bates.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will be launching a report in January that collates our reflections from the Mayor's Challenge and civic innovation.

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