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Dr. Wiebke Borgers 

Facilitator, Design Thinker, Communications Consultant, Coach

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How to Design for Collaboration 

I love working with people. When people in a workshop are in a flow state, completely in the  moment, working together on the issue at hand, it feels magic. When people get creative,  when they push the boundaries of what they are used to do, free themselves of the  embarrassment of what they can possibly do, show, or allow to happen, especially in front of  others. Even when conflict arises, when teams refuse to collaborate, I see it as a form of  energy which you can make use of. 

I am a facilitator, a hypno-systemic coach and design thinker. I work with teams and  individuals, with networks, businesses, organizations and with very large groups of people,  online and offline. What I do, in a nutshell: I help people get stuff done. Because I help to  enhance collaboration.

Collaboration, I find, is crucial for success. And for collaboration to thrive, there’s a lot you  can do.

People like to be invited to participate. And generally, they like to contribute – as long as  their experience, their time and their personal integrity are being respected.



Start with the purpose and character:  

What do you want to come out of your workshop? Who are the people you need, in order to  achieve this? Should it be done online or in person? Design your workshop accordingly. And  be aware that whatever decision you make, will be an intervention: location, time, people,  format, structure, tonality.  



People like to be invited to participate. And generally, they like to contribute – as long as  their experience, their time and their personal integrity are being respected. A true  invitation leaves space for a yes and a no - without negative consequences if it’s a no. There  will be a good reason for it. 



When participants say yes to an invitation, they still need a good orientation regarding what  exactly they are committing to. So, before and during a workshop, let them know what is  going to happen. Give them a clear structure, communicate the purpose and goal of the  workshop, allow time for the participants to land safely in the setting that you chose, and  ideally visualize everything that you do during the workshop.

Expectation management: 

You will want to give your participants a good sense of what is expected of them, too. How  can people contribute, and what will be done with the results of all the work? Are they really  able to make a difference? Be mindful of what you ask for. 

Safe space: 

The most critical factor for successful collaboration is psychological safety. This is what the  Google Aristotle project found out about ten years ago. It is important that I can be  comfortable with my vulnerability and take risks, e.g. ask questions or address difficult  topics. Some ground rules can help create a safe space in your workshop.

Pace it. 

A workshop is not only about the steps you go in your process and rushing to your goal in  the most efficient manner. It is equally about the breaks. Because it is during the breaks that  people connect, relax, and refill their batteries. And this is when serendipity can thrive and  the best ideas come into life.  

It is your responsibility as a facilitator to safeguard that people stay happy and healthy  during the collaboration process. Take the body into account, don’t just cater for the mind.  An online format shouldn’t be the same length as an in-person workshop. Take more breaks!  Vary the format, so the participants include non-virtual tasks and materials, or they go out in  pairs and talk over the phone, instead of sitting in front of their screens all the time. 

Play, experiment, laugh a lot! 

So this is my experience and heart-felt appeal: No matter if you work online, or physically in  a room: encourage playfulness! Growth happens where you leave your comfort zone. When  you enter into the “as if”-zone, don’t take it too seriously just yet. Draw, build, role-play, tell  stories. Include the subconscious, go onto inner journeys or experiment with objects as  

representatives of stakeholders. Experimentation helps to climatize to a future which is still  to emerge, and find flaws in your solutions early. And it creates – in a safe space – an  atmosphere which invites opportunities.

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