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Co-design is a process of collaborative problem-solving to find solutions with your workm8tes, not for them. It involves including perspectives from all m8tes that are impacted by a decision or responsible for achieving an outcome.
Group of workers from different backgrounds wearing hard hats and talking over a document together

As a leader you regularly make decisions that impact their team or workplace. While you may have relevant information and experience to make those decisions, there are many factors that influence whether that decision results in a successful outcome, especially when other workm8tes are involved.

When making decisions on behalf of others, you can risk overlooking potential issues and important information. Workers often have critical insights about business operations and can offer valuable perspectives on possible solutions. By not including your workm8tes in the decision making process you risk making them feel frustrated and disengaged - particularly when these decisions have a direct impact on their work.

The approach of co-design goes beyond consultation. It’s about engaging with your impacted workm8tes throughout the entire problem-solving process. Keep reading to find out how co-design levels up your workplace decision making, or jump straight to the guide on how to co-design good solutions that stick.

There are many benefits to co-designing solutions:

1. All relevant perspectives are considered

While you might have experience with a particular task, something may have changed that means that a different approach is required, or another perspective can spark ideas that improve your solutions.

2. What works for one might not work for all

Individual factors such as family commitments or personal preferences can influence what makes the best decision for a workm8te. Co-design makes sure they have valuable input into planning the solution best solution for them and their circumstances, which may not have been considered otherwise.

3. Creative solutions

By gathering different perspectives, you can generate more creative and innovative solutions.

4. Builds relationships and trust

By creating opportunities for different people in the workplace to come together and work collaboratively, you provide the opportunities for workers to build rapport and relationships with other workers they may not often interact with.

By working with decision-makers and seeing how they think through problems before coming to a solution helps to build workers' trust in these decisions. Even if the final decision was not their preferred option, having being involved in the co-design and problem-solving process often makes m8tes more accepting of the result than if they were just informed of the decision.

5. Feeling heard and valued

Workers feel more valued when their manager actively seeks their perspective on issues that impact them. Giving workers the opportunity to have input on making key decisions builds trust that their experience and value are recognised and appreciated.

6. Mutual accountability

When workers have contributed to the decision-making process, they feel a greater sense of responsibility and accountability for delivering on that outcome. By involving everyone responsible for achieving an objective, you generate more accountability and buy-in.

7. Potential issues are identified

By including all relevant groups through co-design, you can identify potential issues sooner and avoid wasting valuable resources progressing flawed solutions.

Co-design doesn’t discount the experience of managers and leaders or hand over the responsibility of decision-making to others. It simply ensures that all relevant voices are part of the conversation creating a complete view of the issue before a decision is made.

Get the how-to on co-designing solutions with your m8tes

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing co-design in your problem-solving and decision-making practices. Instead, it is about adopting the principles of co-design into the way that you work.

1. Balance the power

Having leaders and management in the room can create a power imbalance. When there is a clear power imbalance that is not directly acknowledged, the co-design process is hindered. Workers are hesitant to challenge others with more power, some voices are more dominant than others, and m8tes are less likely to present ideas they think might go against those from the people holding power.

Instead, establish the workspace as safe and neutral for all to have their say and present ideas. It can be helpful to introduce the everyone in the room and the expertise they bring to identify the importance of their perspective and implement rules such as everyone having time to speak and not interrupting others until they’re done.

It is also good practice for the most senior person in the room to present their ideas last to avoid this influencing other suggestions.

2. Prioritise relationships

The process must be inclusive and prioritise building relationships. Co-design doesn’t work if the people in the room aren’t able to work together and communicate. Trust is build, not bought, through the strength of the social interactions throughout the process. These interactions should be open, empathetic, and supportive. Productive discussion is welcome and should be encouraged. Just as long as the discussion comes from a place of better understanding and developing ideas and not dismissing them.

Find out more about communicating with impact, building connected and supported m8tes, and level up your emotional intelligence (EQ) skills.

3. Participate fully

Ensure all your m8tes can participate in the process. Some m8tes are better than others at things like speaking up in meetings, putting forward their ideas, thinking on the spot, or taking in information verbally.

Take this into account when preparing for and running your co-design session. Your workers may want time to prepare and think about the issue in advance - so see if you can provide key information or questions in advance so those who work this way have enough time to feel prepared. Another example may be giving workers an opportunity to write down their ideas and work through them before presenting them to the group - having time to reflect, will help them to feel confident in their suggestions and not as though they’ve been put on the spot.

To get the most of out of your co-design discussion, think about your workers' styles. Give everyone an opportunity to share their point of view. You may need to call on the quieter more reflective workers and prevent your more vocal ones from dominating the conversation. This

4. Develop solutions & build capacity

There are always decisions to be made and improvements to be had. The co-design process should be iterative as you collect and discuss ideas, develop and implement solutions, and review the outcomes of your solutions. By adopting the co-design process, you can develop the problem-solving skills of those in your workplace and build your workm8tes' capacity to identify issues and think of solutions in their every-day work.

Being able to make good decisions in a timely way helps to create thriving and productive teams.

Originally introduced in combat and strategic warfare, the OODA loop’s original goal was to help make decisions quickly in order to interrupt the enemy’s decision cycle.

The OODA loop is a description of how decision-making within our minds in a recurring loop of observation, orientation, decision-making and action in response to a situation.

While we are not on the battlefield, the OODA loop is still a useful tool in describing the iterative process that is needed for good decision making.



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