Xing eBook: Collaboration as a field of innovation

XING New Work eBook, 2016
For many of us »new work« has arrived in daily life. The digitalization of products, services and communication channels affects how we work and what we are working on. Our focus has shifted from simple product innovation into the realm of »customer experiences« in a broader service ecosystem.

To remain competitive a company must now act independently of its size, and be capable of responding to agile impulses both internally and externally to actively shape its own system. To do so, creating a more effective and attractive collaborative corporate culture is a factor for success.

Many companies and startups already successfully use service design or “startup thinking” approaches – as we call it at IXDS – to develop business models, products and services. The use of these approaches for the deliberate implementation of collaboration models and corporate culture itself, however, is a relatively new field.

For over a year, we at IXDS have been experimenting with new forms of organization, cooperation and management in everyday work to stay attractive as a strategic design studio for our clients and also as an employer in the future. What we have learned is that the service design method is an effective way to foster collaboration.

1. A deep understanding of users as a basis for collaboration

User-centred innovation approaches such as service design draw upon the understanding of interactions and experiences as the starting point for problem solving. While many companies have developed a deep knowledge of its customers, and implement it successfully in the innovation process, the same approach is rarely used in companies as a means to understand employees and identify their needs and desires for their own work.

From our experience, this makes complete sense: integrating user needs early means you create emotional feedback and thus sustainable solutions. Through the use of service design tools such as "cultural probes" and interviews, the employees can be actively involved in the changes that occur within a company and can better identify with the company as a whole.

Often creating change within a company is too specific to be able to simply follow a set of guidelines. Instead, organizations should draw on external inspiration, and then turn to their employees to become the creative problem solving experts. With a deeper understanding of the company’s needs, they can influence topics that matter to their work environment.   

2. Prototyping as a key tool

Collaborative and cultural changes are complex. Prototyping, "the single most pragmatic behaviour in innovation", as Harvard Business Review calls it, is an introduction to solutions in which assumptions, approaches and ideas are tested. Prototypes can range from meeting formats and feedback systems to rituals and manifestos. Last year at IXDS we tested a monthly meeting format to highlight new developments that occurred in a team outside its daily business. We introduced a new feedback system and performance review prototype. Not all prototypes were successful, but a critical element of prototypes is that they fall within the “fail free” zone. The intention is to gain feedback; learning is part of the intention. Under “normal” conditions executives do not have access to this amount of valuable feedback. 

3. The process itself changes collaboration

Adopting a user-oriented approach to shape collaboration is already part of the intended change, because in the design process the interaction is "different" - empathic and interdisciplinary. Through participating and experiencing, employees are shaping their models of collaboration and work environment to match their needs in ways they didn’t even know were possible. Especially in companies that do not yet have much experience with interdisciplinary collaboration, this method can boost confidence and build skills that can be embedded in the future corporate culture.

For companies today, a major challenge is making collaboration effective and attractive for the development of innovative offers and to remain consist in volatile markets. At IXDS we have found that using service design methods, with a focus on user empathy, teamed with the fast implementation of prototypes complements traditional methods of strategy development and implementation, and acts as an alternative to classic change management.