With a few simple ground rules, collaboration between designers and other professionals can produce remarkable results.

If there is one word that clearly defines the future of the interiors profession, it might be “collaboration.” Boundaries that once compartmentalized all design professionals in neat boxes of disciplines are being systematically erased by technology, integration and globalization. 

With ever-increasing complexities in design projects and higher performance expectations from owners and clients, the future is clear: No man or woman can be an island in the design profession. Most designers will acknowledge that acting together in teams can increase the success of problem solving, whether by reducing project costs or increasing building efficiencies. But collaboration is the next rung up the ladder, and such deeper thinking can give birth to unique approaches and concepts.

Collaboration is much more than the intersection of shared goals and objectives. If approached with mutual intent, it can be a process that creates a communal mind, bringing a group together to develop solutions in spite of diverse points of view, ranges of professional experiences and the promotion of individual advocacies. At the highest levels of the collaborative process, design teams may even consider untested possibilities that foster unexpected, innovative and novel outcomes.

Achieving a high level of successful collaboration requires a few key steps, and it starts with a clear agenda and an articulation of the desired outcomes. Taking the time to fully define client criteria, outline the project requirements and assess any circumstances is essential to achieving objectives. But avoid being too prescriptive in the first conversations with the team so participants feel open to freely contribute.

In his book, Collaboration, Morten T. Hansen, a management professor at the UC Berkley School of Information, expresses the importance of determining what is ultimately desired in the collaborative process, writing, “In their eagerness to get people to tear down silos and work in cross-unit teams, leaders often forget that the goal of collaboration is not collaboration itself, but results.”

The makeup of the team is also vital to achieving success at higher levels. The more difficult or complex the design problem, the more diverse in skills, expertise and disciplines the team should be. Having a facilitator with authority can also get the team focused on desired outcomes and keep everyone from getting bogged down in trying to solve every small detail. Leave the minute detailing to others or consider tasking small breakout groups with solving one part or component.

Whether the collaboration is in person with the use of white board and markers or as a virtual group over the Internet, there needs to be a high level of trust. Nothing will deter collaboration more than a lack of trust and accountability, so it is important to establish an atmosphere of goodwill, honesty and transparency.

Another step to creating successful collaborative outcomes is to agree in advance what the primary decision-making process will be. Will it be by majority, unanimous, recommendations that are then delegated to others or by group consensus? And what should occur when the team reaches an impasse? Establishing rules will be easier if all agree up front how roadblocks are to be handled.

If there is a deadline for certain important or critical decisions, make sure that it is near the top of the agenda. Have ample and sufficient time set aside to allow everyone to contribute their concepts freely and openly. The vetting of collaborative ideas permits a concept to grow and evolve into appropriate solutions, so be realistic about the amount of time and effort that may be needed.

Finally, ensure there is a methodology for evaluating the collaborative process. This helps the participants to know how well they did, whether some or all of the strategies will be implemented and who is to be responsible for the implementation.

Andrew Carnegie defined collaboration exceedingly well when he said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision; the ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows uncommon results.”

The collaborative design process can be used for projects of varying shapes and sizes. It can even be applied to address social and environmental challenges. Imagine the opportunity to collaborate with interdisciplinary groups to raise the quality of lives around the planet. Whether designing affordable housing, creating retreats for at-risk youths or working with the disadvantaged to ensure safe, secure environments, the process of collaborative design can lead to solutions to such complex global problems. Remarkable things can and do happen when we collaborate.

Source:  Interiors and Sources – April 2011