Design thinking as a magic wand for trainers and innovators. Role of facilitation.


by Katarzyna Młynarczyk


Don’t oversimplify design thinking

What a challenge! – that was the strongest, eye-opener thought during my first Jam (over 3 years ago). I found myself as a trainer (future facilitator) and member of a team. In that moment I understood design thinking as process divided into couple of basic stages fulfilled by a toolkit. Since then I was trying to implement some of them and met a thousand moments of feeling like: I’m not so sure is it a good direction whe’re going (thinking about work of my teams), It’s not easy at all…, Maybe another tool…?, How to trigger my team, how to stimulate the process? 


I’ve even reached for the popular book:  This is Service Design Thinking. Basics – Tools – Cases (Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010), but as Katja said it is not detailed enough to enable non-designers to work with these tools in creative processes without a professional facilitator. That reminds me about my role in the future. Role as a facilitator in the whole process.

New insights. Booms and wows

What I was thinking about our first classes in DT on Laurea was that I will somehow acknowledge my attitude that companies should apply the principles of design to the way people work, the way they create new concepts of services. Apart from many booms and wows moments during the workshops (again both in a facilitator and team member role) 
I gained valuable knowledge about origins of design thinking (my very basic, beginner sketches and souvenir from the first day attached below).


Energy in our group (Spartans 301 team) was really good. I heard that multidisciplinary teams are one of the key elements of succesful innovation process, and are that brings me some very important reflections in case of role of facilitator in a whole design thinking process. He can be the one who empowers the team to experiment, think through and ideate.


I will list now 10 insights about role of facilitator from 2-days classes with Katja:

  1. Remember about deep understanding of each tool (connected with stage from Mindshake’s model E6) and make sure that each member of the team knows what you will do and what is the point.
  2. If some of team members don’t accept intent statement/problem to solve during the whole process – you should rethink it or discuss.
  3. Everyone should have their chance to express themselves in a ideation process. Make sure you conduct this part with a couple of minutes (in silence!) to write down ideas, then some quick break and second (harder) part of ideation. You can find some more great tools for ideation in my presentation on Slideshare:
  4. Don’t judge! Remember about critical thinking over key assumptions. If you use post-its during idea generation process they should have the same colour and big letters (there is no use to know whose idea is on the post-it, concenrate on a process)
  5. Don’t tell: It’s my idea! – Ideas are all yours – your teams’ ideas. You build on a concept, on a statement. There is no uppercase!
  6. If you see some member of a team who is not active, try to involve this person in a process, ask questions, try to build on ideas, never say: No (instead: Yes, but, Yes, and)
  7. As a facilitator think about some triggers to creativity of the group. Sometimes a good, quick energizer is enough!
  8. When the process is complex, try to assign tasks to each member. I.e. during interviewing – one person should be asking questions (based on prepared scenario) another one – making notes, a third one – can additionaly observe reactions and emotions. In case of other tools like moodboards it is great to use some online platform like Pinterest and add every member of the team as participator.zrzut-ekranu-2016-09-26-o-00-22-01
  9. If the group energy is at good level you can introduce rule of one page – many pens (during our SID classes we’ve done it in sketching of idea presentation on storyboards).
  10. Prepare a prototyping box in your company. Collect there any stuff which can be in the future useful in prototyping process.

Role of facilitator is crucial in design thinking process!

I know – it’s not so easy, but even as an entrant facilitator I’ve noticed that the mentioned points are extremely important during the whole process. It is not only about tools, it’s also about involvement, engagement, empathy in multidisciplinary teams. It is about energy in this complex process of strategic innovation.

Future facilitators, trainers – keep your work done, train your skills in using design thinking toolkit in various projects, cases, industries and remember about 5 gold facilitator RULES!

1. creativity confidence
2. empathy with your team (as Erik Roth said Design thinking promotes empathy)
3. energizers and triggers toolkit = must have!
4. keeping your team constantly motivated during the process
5. keep in mind really important details in using design thinking toolkit

Kate Młynarczyk, SID 2016/2017 student, CEO of Socjomania – digital consultancy in Poland

5 thoughts on “Design thinking as a magic wand for trainers and innovators. Role of facilitation.

  1. Thanks Katarzyna! I enjoyed the blog 🙂 One other thing that struck me during the session was individuals’ potential to unconsciously steer groups’ thinking. I’m not sure what it was that caused so many of the groups to focus on similar problems and solutions – perhaps the q&a with the second years, or perhaps Katja sharing the example from the previous year. Reading your blog it occurred to me this is an issue facilitators would need to be careful to avoid where possible, especially in contexts where the aim is to encourage divergent thinking.

    • Thanks Adam for sharing! Yeah. That’s right. We should avoid assumptions and divergent thinking – getting stuck in one idea, one context, one point, not moving forward. It should be some methods on that. I will definitely look for some solutions and this is not my last post about facilitation 🙂

  2. I so much agree about the role of facilitator. I find myself slowly getting better at but I still have a long way to go. What you said earlier about energizers is a very good point. Do you know some good practices to do during workshops? 🙂

  3. Kasia, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Personally, I agree with you that especially during the ideation phase this, not judgmental attitude and deep care for using similar color cards, pencils and creating a similar environment for everybody is critical. Ideation session is also a great time to see the collective process of the group. In a while, all boundaries are melted, and there is no unique idea of individual men but this collectively build-up idea of the team. It is a big responsibility to the facilitator to emphasize it.

    Also, I agree with what you said about keeping a team spirit, and engagement of people on the good level. It should be a priority for the facilitator but also a team leader. But from my perspective, it cannot happen with force. By that, I mean that collaboration is more like dance, we need to give space to someone to let him/her make a move in next moment. Guess the challenge for the facilitator is to master the art of embracing people as they are and balance the group dynamic in the same time.

  4. Thanks Kasia, I appreciate the fact that you centered on one crucial point – the role & work of the facilitator and gave interest insight on your learnings from the contact session, great summary. And does resonate with my findings – when there’s a professional facilitator the whole process becomes clearly focused and structured. In our group the roles shifted during the session each one of us taking the role of the facilitator at some point, a good learning process for all of us. On the issue of multidisciplinary team for design process – totally agree that the right set of skills and backrounds are needed depending on the focus of the task. And roles are also important. Now we were a group of students with different backrounds & skills, which was great.

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