Leadership in 2022 — Why Co-creation should be the new buzzword

Leadership in 2022 — Why Co-creation should be the new buzzword

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It’s no secret that top-down management is completely outdated and provides little motivation for great employees to stay with the company. While the agile methodology has become common, there are still many teams who remain dependent on their product lead to make decisions for them.

Don’t get me wrong — there will always be that dependency since a product manager’s role is to give the team clear goals. But more often than not, I see many product managers who go way more into detail and end up dictating every single feature while the team only decides what can fit into a sprint or not.

This approach works, but has no failsafe. Once the product manager is out of office for whatever reason, sheer panic breaks out because the whole team is lost on what they should be doing. This is not a situation you want your team to be in!

With my last team at Mighty Bear Games, I tried to avoid that helplessness by learning more about leadership and how to create an autonomous team. Keith Ferrazzi’s concept of co-elevation really stuck with me. Co-elevation is basically a collaborative and mission-driven problem-solving approach that enables teams to self-organise and partner up fluidly. In order to help your team to go higher together, you need to foster co-creation — your most important goal as a leader.

The benefits of doing that are:

  • fostering feelings of belonging as co-creation drives inclusion within the team
  • generating real commitment as the team feels responsible for what is co-created
  • ownership in what your team does so it doesn’t need handholding from you
  • alignment through constant collaboration

This sounded great and aligned with what I wanted to achieve. Here’s what we did with the team to foster co-creation.

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Step 1: Create a safe space

In order to create a high-performing team, the team needs to trust you, themselves, and each other. A first step to enabling open communication is giving people psychological safety.

Team members should be allowed to voice concerns, vulnerabilities, and give radically candid feedback without negative consequences! Lead that openness by example and be a role model for the team. I love to do a who’s who exercise as a starter. It entails describing your role and give some insight on your work style.

An exercise from the Team Alignment workshop that every team member fills out.

Step 2: Assess where your team is at

Talk to every team member and note down what works well, where there are hiccups, and what is really bugging them. If you are new to the team, you first need to build relationships, so in that case I would attend any work meetings or sessions and just be an observer for a while.

After that, summarise your findings and cluster them into common themes.

Step 3: Align the team

At the beginning of a project, I like to host a big team alignment consisting of several workshops. The main goal is to get the whole team on board by giving them the space to understand the project vision, the project needs, and the possibility of contributing to the project’s direction.

After sharing the overarching vision, the team is given a few questions to discuss:

  • How should the customer feel?
  • What do we need to do to provide that experience?
  • How are we going to measure if we achieved that?
  • How do we hold each other accountable during the project?
Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Step 4: Carve out the goals

Now we get to the fun part — break out sessions! This is especially easy to do with remote working, and many tools like Google Meet or Zoom offer the option to split the call into several groups. I use the break out session to look at specific project areas more in detail. The benefit of breaking the whole team into smaller groups is not only for efficiency’s sake; having a smaller discussion group immediately creates psychological safety — I’m pretty sure many people are more confident speaking about a topic in front of two people as compared to giving a talk on stage, right?

The more intimate the group is, the more pride and ownership develop as they will have to actively participate to deliver results, and not show up empty-handed in front of their other teammates.

Coming back to the break out sessions, each group has a specific goal or problem to solve, and come up with suggestions for. In the case of our project, we are right at the start of it, so I really want the team to think about what they can do to help us achieve our goals.

Template of our most recent breakout group sessions

Step 5: Review together

Sharing the results of the break out sessions is usually the first time the team reviews something together. It is important to allow enough time to discuss the results and get input from the team members on the suggestions made.

Once the suggestions have been reviewed, it’s time for the project leads to break out further, into an even smaller group, and start prioritising them. A smaller group is critical at this stage because it is impossible to prioritise when you have 20 people giving input, with each of those 20 people having their own milestones and success criteria to meet. Project leads will have a better overview of the project and what the big picture needs are. If you end up adopting this process, I’d recommend hosting workshops anytime there’s a bigger question or issue, to allow the team to weigh in and keep feeling invested.

However, the collaboration doesn’t end here! It’s important to frequently check in with the whole team and help everyone to stay on the same page. In our case, we are in a very explorative stage of the project, where we need to answer many unknowns, which, when answered, will provide people with the context they need to make the right decisions. In order to foster project visibility, the knowledge sharing needs to happen in a structured format right at the beginning, at least until the team gets used to doing it in their sleep.

For us, the following process makes the most sense at this stage:

I’d also highly recommend hosting retrospectives — personally, I like to mix up very open ones just asking about what went well, what didn’t, etc. with guided sessions where I want to cover a specific aspect of the project or team workflow.

With those small steps, we have already created a very collaborative environment, but I’m totally aware that there’s more to do.

These are the next topics I’m looking into:

So if you have a recommendation, please feel free to leave a comment. We also have super exciting projects coming up, so make sure to check out our career page at Mighty Bear Games!

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