Endless discussions that transcend time, bouncing forever along various paths without ever reaching a destination, bring me joy on cool autumn nights next to a campfire with friends. At work they raise my blood pressure. I’m working on that. But my job is not to endlessly talk about the challenges and risks to our success. It’s to organize people to take action to solve them.
Most business leaders could summarize their job in this (albeit boring) way: I organize people to take action that solves for the success of our business. Yet in every job I’ve had, from delivering pizzas to selling toilet paper, I’ve witnessed a tendency among teams and leaders of teams to talk forever about their problems. And what some poorly-defined “they” or “we” should do about it. While never getting around to the actual doing.
I see it most often at the start of new roles. Upon joining an existing team, I jump midstream into flowing discussions about what’s wrong and what could be and quickly discover that these discussions have been happening for months, maybe years, before I joined them and would be perfectly happy to continue happening for months or years after I’m gone.
And that’s where leaders can quickly make a difference. It’s where my superpower lies—in moving organizations from endless discussion and debate to confident action. To spot these opportunities, I listen for comments in discussions that sound like this:
- “We’ve talked about doing something for years but we just can’t get it going. It’s just too hard to get started.”
- “Let me tell you about this thing that we’ve been working on since the Carter administration. Someday we’re going to do it, you betcha!”
- “If it was up to me I’d [insert passionate oration of brilliance]. But it’s not up to me. Oh well.” *shrugs and gets back to work*
- “When Carl finally fires me I’m going to start my own business and [insert the smart thing nobody will listen to].”
Think about each of these examples. Each case shows some building blocks of success. We have smart people collaborating to address an important challenge. We have good ideas about how to address it–a potential path. And we have motivated people willing to own that path.
What we don’t have is anyone taking actual steps. The reasons and answers are multifaceted. But I’ve learned that sometimes teams just need a little push toward a first step. A little push to stop talking, to make some decisions, and to take action.
Designed Collaboration with Design Sprints
The answer is often a deceptively simple one: channel the talking by replacing unbounded discussion with well-designed collaboration. Well-designed collaboration takes raw energy, ideas, and discussion within a team and channels them into decisions and actions that address a challenge.
My experience as a Three Five Two customer showed me a powerful example of well-designed collaboration in action: the design sprint. Three Five Two’s execution of design sprints is ultimately what made me want to work here to hone my own ability to push organizations to take action. Let's dig deeper into design sprints to show what well-designed collaboration looks like and how it pushes teams to take quick action.
Years ago Three Five Two began using the design sprint process developed by Jake Knapp and John Zerasky at Google Ventures. A design sprint is a collaborative, 5-day process for answering critical business questions through designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. The process is executed by a small team of experts with a specific goal to achieve at the end of each day.
It’s also a great example of well-designed collaboration. It is, by definition, taking action against a challenge in very tangible ways to push an organization forward in a compressed period of time. Because the timeline is so compressed, every moment of collaboration every day is designed to push forward. And everyone in the room knows exactly what their role is in that collaboration and action. Armed with this framework–and the designed collaboration that it unlocks–teams and organizations can accomplish much more in a shorter period of time than they thought possible.
A look at the structure of design sprints and the components of collaboration design that they include shows us how:
In five quick days, a small team of collaborators executing a design sprint can shift from hopeless debate about a problem to a focused solution with live feedback on an approach to solve it. Design sprints feel magical in their ability to move teams forward quickly. But they aren’t really magic. At its core, the design sprint is intentional, well-designed collaboration to solve a problem. It feels like magic because we’re all used to the alternative: endless discussions that take us nowhere fast.