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Nina Terrey: How collaboration and a shared business vision make the difference

Nina Terrey
Smarter Writer

Nina Terrey is global partner at ThinkPlace, a global strategic design consultancy specialising in designing for the public good and thrives on work that tackles complex problems.

Nina Terrey
Smarter Writer

Nina Terrey is global partner at ThinkPlace, a global strategic design consultancy specialising in designing for the public good and thrives on work that tackles complex problems.

Nina Terrey and ThinkPlace are testament to the idea that sharing a clear companybusiness vision is the most effective route to achieving your goals. Through ThinkPlace, Nina has exercised her passion and leadership in co-design, system-wide innovation, capability development and the implementation of projects that go beyond organisations to make an impact in wider society.

Nina Terrey of ThinkPlace

ThinkPlace’s achievements have been highlighted by a win at the 2018 Telstra Business Awards in the Social Change Maker category and an ongoing partnership with the Gates Foundation. Nina and her team are at the forefront of design thinking. Here, she shares how collaboration and design thinking makes great things happen, and how it could for your business mission, too.

Design Thinking

In 2007 I joined ThinkPlace, as employee number two, with founder John Body, who started the company two years earlier. 

“At the time we thought how incredible it would be if a business could work purely to help people collaborate and tackle some of the most difficult, wicked problems facing society.” 

But more specifically, we wanted to solve problems using the design thinking process as a way of re-imagining how to work through difficult challenges.

You might be wondering: what is ‘design thinking’?

Design thinking is creative and collaborative problem-solving. It’s about getting people to think differently about the challenges they face.

The first step in design thinking is diving deeply into how people experience a given problem. And that starts with understanding the experience of the problem through building empathy.

Design thinking is human-centred. At its core it involves talking to and observing people. We’ll spend time with people to actually find out what is the essence of their problem – and at this point it’s important to not make assumptions about what matters to people.

If more than one individual, agent or company thinks they can solve it, we’ll bring everything and everyone together as a system. 

“We believe in working together, because no one person can solve a very complex problem.”

Design thinking is process driven – this includes co-creating solutions with people, creating fast low-cost prototypes to test and learn what solutions might work, and along this journey get people who have decision-making power and resources to participate so that solutions can be implemented.  

The real power of design thinking in innovation is designing for a real person from the start by understanding the needs of  those who experiences the problem – governments, entrepreneurs, and large institutions can develop solutions that address real needs and in doing so create solutions that work. Try design thinking as a process to solving problems in your business. The five steps are below.

The five steps of design thinking

1.    Empathise

2.    Define (the problem)

3.    Ideate

4.    Prototype

5.    Test

The importance of collaboration in the workplace

Businesses, and the people within them, face complex challenges, and no one perspective can see every angle. Remember this when fronting up to a challenge in your business.

“We are far more creative when people with diverse skills and views come together to explore an issue or a challenge” 

Company collaboration needs lots of different players to actively participate over just being told what the vision is. Collaboration in business involves your team truly co-creating it.

Nina Terrey’s 5 tips on company collaboration

1.    Share an intent and vision: Too many people think that collaboration in business is a win-loss, that someone has to give something up, but that’s not true. It is about creating a shared vision about what the future ought to be, and everyone holding passionately to that vision.

2.    Boldly explore: Make time to understand people’s perspectives. Embrace differences and uncover shared experiences.

3.    Be creative: Make time to innovate with others. Unearth the ideas. You’ll be surprised where ideas come from.

4.    Test and learn: Test your ideas. Not just with your collaborators but with other people too. Expand who you collaborate with and how you do it.

5.    Get moving: Do something, even if it’s a small start. Make a decision to act. Don’t be afraid of using technology or different ways of making change happen.

Collaboration is about fostering new partnerships that can take steps towards that shared vision. Ultimately, you need to bring the best people together to actually realise some sort of change.


Hurdles to collaboration

As always, in business there will be challenges.

A common barrier to collaboration is the way people think about it. You need to break down the tightly held concept of ‘this is how collaboration works, and this is the only way it works’.

Sometimes the barriers are people who don’t know how to collaborate – they fall short.

To get around people’s rigid ideas of what collaboration is, or their inability to engage with it, you need to map out the process clearly and choose your collaborators wisely. Think about who you can bring together to overcome a particular challenge you’re facing.

Start with the people in your group who have the ability to motivate, include and influence others. Soon enough, over time, collaboration will build like a snowball rolling down a mountainside.

“A hurdle to collaboration can sometimes be the same thing that is supposed to enable it.”

Today we’re remarkably enabled with digital technology – these new platforms allow exciting ways to collaborate. But sometimes, the collaborative tech we use can be a barrier. There are things you simply have to do in person.

So it’s important to get the right mix of working together face-to-face – say, when convening as a group – and across digital technology.

Collaborating with technology:

How should you approach combining collaboration and tech? The answer: by trialling it first.

“Just as testing is a fundamental step in the design-thinking process, trialling the implementation of your tech is a must-do.”

Some people are hesitant, or scared, to adopt new tech. But I think ‘scary’ gets de-risked when you roll it out methodically and keep focussed on the advantages that can come with it.

So start with a small group of people as a trial, and then, when you’re ready, roll it out consciously and methodically, train everyone and keep the communication lines open.

And we don’t only use the cloud for external projects: we share our internal projects on it too.

The tools ThinkPlace choose: Could they work for you?

The best tools have helped us activate lots of different people into lots of different projects. Our clients and our teams of designers come from all around the world.

ThinkPlace’s top tech choices
  • Trello for workflow and project management.
  • WhatsApp and Slack let people click in and participate in a social, accepting way, and facilitate conversations.
  • Slides is a product we use globally for collaborating on presentations.
  • Confluence is an Atlassian product we use for managing progress and sharing knowledge on a project.
  • Bloomfire consolidates your company knowledge into one secure and searchable platform, to enable more efficiency.
  • Miro is a digital platform that enables radical, inclusive collaboration across physical boundaries, allowing users to bring people together virtually for workshops, research sessions and other purposes. 

Building from the bottom up

Being human-centred, being led by design thinking, is hugely powerful for businesses of all kinds – big, medium, and small.

“Think about this: every single decision you make, someone will experience it. That’s a powerful thing to realise.”

Where possible, include your business’s employees in your business decisions.

“It’s all about transparency and engagement. If you include people in the process you can debunk assumptions, get people’s support and garner their interest along the way.”    

At ThinkPlace, we’ll continue to apply collaborative design thinking to our future and help others do it too. It works for us – it will work for you. 

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