Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 1/5

Imagine what you can do with your ideas if you could do this out of sand. Source:

Imagine what you can do with your ideas if you could do this out of sand. Source:

In my last blog post I talked about key principles behind successful innovations. This time I want to share some of the tools our innovation team uses in our daily work here at UNICEF Headquarters in New York to help envision and test successful innovations. Because the list is long, I will keep posting during the upcoming weeks, so please stay tuned. This first post concentrates on effective teamwork, which is perhaps the most important tool of all.

I was inspired to write about this topic when I bought a book for my thesis work a month ago. The book is called “This Is Service Design Thinking. Basics – Tools – Cases” and it is like a bible for my MBA study program of Service Innovation and Design. Design Thinking is all about user-centered design, which is one of the key principles behind our work when innovating solutions that benefit children in real contexts. Since most of our work with country offices is done remotely, we also use more traditional tools such as sticky notes, white boarding, data visualization, and team meetings that at a first glance may seem self-explanatory but I feel deserve to be recognized as well. Let me introduce you to some of the tools that I have encountered during my time here.

Brown Bag Lunch – Rae (in the middle) teaches basics of coding to the team. Photo credit: Christopher Fabian, New York

Brown Bag Lunch – Rae (in the middle) teaches basics of coding to the team. Photo credit: Christopher Fabian, New York

Multidisciplinary teamwork is a tool in itself

Being part of the innovation unit for three months now, I have had the chance to get to know many projects and see different ways of working within those projects. Our multidisciplinary team uses various traditional and field-specific tools in their work. These tools offer the possibility of not only working more effectively but also approaching issues from new angles and enhancing the design process.

As a multidisciplinary team, we each bring different skills and experiences to the table. Effective collaboration comes from understanding the strengths of each team member, and engaging their guidance and assistance on relevant projects. Learning from, helping, and complementing each other is the beauty of multidisciplinary teamwork.

Effective communication makes a big difference for a team

We cherish teamwork and thus, want to promote and develop our teamwork skills and communication. Even though the following two tools are not directly related to innovation and design, they are effective in team communication, relationships and bonding. After all, effective communication makes it easier for us to work as a team, and teamwork is one of the key ingredients of designing better results for children.

1. Fail Friday toasts to successes, learns from failures and disentangles confusions

During the time I have been here we have held a weekly meeting called Fail Friday. The idea is to share one success, one failure, and one confusion from the past week. Everyone takes a turn telling about his or her experiences, and together we celebrate big and small successes, discuss how to handle failures, and support each other to overcome confusions.

As the name suggests, the meeting is usually held on Friday (although since flexibility is another team asset, we have had Fail Friday on Monday too). Friday is preferable because the idea is also to strengthen the team relationships by sharing thoughts in a bit more informal way. Afterward, we usually go out to dinner. I have found this teamwork-enhancing tool not only effective in communicating project work to other teammates but also an important way to get closer to my colleagues. This makes teamwork so much easier and more comfortable. I warmly recommend trying it.

Chris (Christopher Fabian, the Co-Lead of the Innovation Unit) and virtual Fail Friday. Photo credit: Christopher Fabian, New York

Chris (Christopher Fabian, the Co-Lead of the Innovation Unit) and virtual Fail Friday. Photo credit: Christopher Fabian, New York

2. Stand-up meetings teach prompt communication

Another teamwork communication tool initiated a few weeks after I started my internship was Stand-up meetings. We faced some difficulties in communicating our work to each other, especially with people travelling frequently and going from one meeting to another, sometimes hardly seeing each other at the office, and needed a way to regularly and quickly update each other on projects.

Each Stand-up meeting lasts for 15 minutes, leaving everyone just over a minute to talk about their current work. We use sticky notes to visually track our progress on specific projects by using one note for what happened yesterday, one for what is going to happen today and one for any barriers we are facing. Team members that are working outside the office can be included in the meeting via Skype.

Besides being a good tool for communicating about our projects and work phases, the meetings are fun, too: we are called to assemble by the theme from the Game of Thrones sung by a cat. Our neighboring teams might feel differently about the sound gathering us together though…

My next blog post in a few days will introduce some simple and basic design tools that have a bigger impact that you might think.

Erika Pursiainen
Intern, UNICEF Innovation Unit, New York

Read more stories of UNICEF Innovation on our blog

Read also my previous post about interning at UNICEF Innovation Unit.

One thought on “Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 1/5

  1. Sharing the failures and confusions, not just the accomplishments sound like a great idea. The usually self-imposed pressure to only talk of accomplishments easily turns such team meetings into a masquerade where truth gets hidden and just keeps piling up until it’s not possible anymore.

    Seth Godin has touched upon the same subject in a recent blog post of his ;

    Blue skies,
    -Cagri Akgul

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