Four attributes of a great problem solving team

Team work has been a key success factor to every design workshop I’ve done.  I have yet to see a design team where one member genuinely knows everything.  But what makes a great design team?

I generally find that the most successful design teams have the following characteristics:

  1. Members are intrinsically motivated
  2. Members are curious
  3. Diversity and experience in thinking are present
  4. There is at least one person that can lead, mentor, or facilitate

Members need to be self motivated.  Not everyone is.  Organizations that assign people to teams, without checking on that intrinsic motivation, will find that the team will underperform.

Tied to this is having curious people.  People who are curious ask questions.  They seek out new experiences and resources.  They look to see why things are the way they are and what could happen if changes are made.  Curious people have a willingness to experiment and are more accepting of failure—all great stuff for design teams.

A homogenous group of individuals will likely produce one line of thinking and fail to capture the situation and problem at their full breadth.  I’ve been invited to some teams where diversity is lacking.  The results are often a same as last year mentality or the team fails to capture insights or alternate perspectives.  I discuss some of these in the Misfit Thinking book.  A lack of diversity in thinking will not likely produce stellar results.

Most organizations are new to design thinking and the level of problem solving skills people have vary greatly.  Having someone with prior experience lead the team can help draw out the best from the members of the team, help the team discover insights, and ask questions to help members see alternate perspectives.  Having an experienced leader is like having a gardener.  If you just throw the seeds in the ground, you might get some fruit.  But having someone that can weed, water, fertilize, and tend the garden will produce many more fruits.

There are other attributes that you may find helpful for your team, but these four are generally the ones I’ve universally seen across all design teams.