Teamwork Ground Rules

Good advice from Kristof Kovacs

There's only three things:

  • ASK: If a task is not clear, or more information is needed, please ask as soon as possible. Asking is always ok. Doing the wrong thing (or doing nothing) because you didn't ask is not ok.
  • DEBRIEF: It's not done until you reported it done. This is often just a one-sentence email to me or to the client, sometimes a "100%" mark in the task list, or a ticket closed. It is done, completed or fixed only when whoever needed it done knows about it.
  • WARN: If a deadline you know is important will likely be missed, warn me soon, as the situation is evolving, and then we can usually figure something out. If I have to learn at the moment of the deadline that it was missed, that's not ok. (In multi-boss situations that occur frequently in matrix organisations, or if you're a freelancer, also warn me if your workload is above what you can actually do, instead of not doing certain tasks.)

The Creative Brief

Don't let the question predict, limit and/or hide the answer. It is very important when creating a brief for a creative project not to be overly prescriptive as it will limit the possible creative outcomes. Trust the team and the creative process to deliver unexpected results that fill your requirements.

When engaging in a new project we want to get the ball rolling quickly, layout expectations early and agree time-scales and budgets. Removing ifs, buts and maybes from the process greatly increases the chances of the creative partnership surpassing the client's expectations and the development of a lasting relationship.


  • What your organisation does?
  • What your niche market is?
  • How you fit in your industry sector?
  • General project information?
  • Aims & Objectives?
  • Desired Deliverables?


Detail on desired target market, including demographic information where possible.

  • Choose a typical audience member or group and profile including; occupation, age range, gender, what their day looks like etc.
  • How will they use your product?
  • What do the audiences believe or think?

Messages, Features, Benefits and Values.

  • List top desired (these may include must have/mission critical) features and/or facts about the product and its value to target audiences.
  • Who is the competition?
  • How should this product stack up against the opposition?
  • What is the primary message?

Budget and Schedule

  • Has the budget been approved?
  • Is establishing the budget part of the brief?
  • What is the product release date?
  • Are there specific milestones that need to be achieved?
  • What is the due date for the finished project?


  • Who is the primary contact for the project.
  • What content will you be providing? logos, style guides, measurements.
  • What are the internal review and approval processes.
  • Who will sign off on the final design.
  • How many revisions are expected? (unlimited is not an option)
  • What format will the final design need to fill.


This part of the work plan is dependent on both the brief and the scope of the programme.

After Note:

Production can be explained in isolation but is executed with Planning. I have updated the previous post "Plan" to reflect some of this.



This post is incomplete and needs so much more detail that the above line will have to do for now ;) 


Decision Time—Convergent Thinking

This point marks a sudden change of gears, where phase one and two come to a sudden and marked end. With the leadership of the Facilitators the group evaluates the most popular concepts against the brief's criteria until a top concept is found.

In a situation where there are many teams working in rotation on a number of briefs, all participants should be allowed take part in the evaluation stage of the programme. Existing teams are broken up and members reassigned based on suitability, passion (to the brief) and performance. This is done to bring fresh energy to the next phase of the process and should be communicated delicately and positively.

It is common for teams to drift wildly around the brief and quite often return a truly off topic result. With this in mind having the lead facilitator present the teams concepts back to them before work begins can help refocus the concepts to the brief.


The concept phase is an explosion of ideas shooting off in almost random directions. In the refinement phase of the creative process we look for links between concepts, gradually building upon what has been developed and referring to both the brief and reflecting on the inspirations gathered in phase one.

The refinement process draws to a close with each team member giving thumbs up to the concepts they like, narrowing the field for the evaluation process. This can be done with the simple process of placing a post-it note with their initials on each concept they feel strongly about. There is no upper limit to this process, but through the process of refinement and reduction the number of concepts should be reduced to a manageable level.


Explode—Divergent thinking

Take risks, be persistent, be curious. Fail early and fail often.

Using the inspirations that were collected in phase one, the team offer up ideas that address the needs of the brief. Team members can offer up fresh concepts or build on the work of others.

Go for quantity, explore each idea entirely. Be spontaneous divergent thinking should be free-flowing, look for connections. Think with your hands, make things. These could be:

  • Simple notes
  • Free writings
  • Code Snippets
  • Models
  • Doodles
  • Storyboards
  • Sounds/Pieces of Music
  • Act it out

This is a heads up exercise were we keep looking at the work of those around us and the inspiration gathered earlier in order to spawn more ideas. Encourage the things we like, use language that explores/broadens rather then directs/narrows.

How much is enough? A team of 4-5 should be able to easily produce 100+ concepts in less then an hour. Teams may loose energy very early less then 10 concepts in the process. Feeling that the "right answer" has been found already and that time is being wasted that could be used on production. This is quite natural amongst groups new to this type of process, or jaded by prior experience. At this point the facilitator needs to come forward and step the group up and down the brief asking exploring questions. Open up the team to new process of exploration. Encourage, don't dismiss or correct unless all other options have been explored.


The input phase of the process where the team learns to eat sleep and breathe the subject of the brief. In order for this to work effectively it is important that we learn to come to terms with our filters. Throughout our lives we have been developing filters through which we see the world. These filters can be broken down into:

  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Prejudice
  • Culture
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Meta Behaviours

Each of the above contributes to who we are as individuals and how we form opinions, but in order for use to be truly divergent in our thinking we need to see past our filters and seek new experiences, ideologies and concepts. By questioning and challenging ourselves we can take our work in unexpected/unintended directions. Begin by gathering:

  • Interesting Stories
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • Articles
  • Sketches

These sources should not always be digital and the internet is only one source of great material. Books, journals and magazines have the advantage and disadvantage of being curated content which can save time and energy initially. They are also dated time capsules making it easier to spot trends both past and present.

These sources are triggers for thoughts, memories, conversations, from which a thousand ideas can grow. It is important that we check our filters when viewing sources and make sure that we are not unknowingly editing out source material without being daft and letting everything in regardless of relevance.

Get out and experience the real world, be empathetic, meet the people who may ultimately interact with the product of the brief. Explore the environment which will be effected by the product. Take pictures, videos and notes, try to understand the human needs of the design process be an anthropologist. Understand the who and where before addressing the what, why or when.

Is the brief something completely revolutionary or are their other product/services already available that are close to or already fulfil the requirement of the brief. If so what are they? What can we learn from them? How are they performing? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Should we stand on the shoulders of giants? What would a completely new offering look, sound, taste, smell or feel like?

Inspirations should be shared visibly and openly with the group. Avoid any urge to protect or hide good sources for personal gain, thinking they might come in handy later. Instead look around at the inspirations added by the team and bounce off them in order to build on their influence. Acknowledge and encourage the ideas you like, refrain from criticism or discouragement at any stage. Talk openly with each other throughout the process, rather then work silently in corners.

Creating Whitespace—Identifying Themes

The second step of the Inspire phase is to organize the insights developed by the team. Each Postit is moved individually and discussed by the team as it is placed beside notes to which it has something in common. As each note is organised whitespace is created and the clusters/themes become clearly defined. Each team is then asked to develop a narrative to describe and establish the relationships, if any there is between each clusters/theme.


Some Design Principals

  • Complex problems require simple, clear and honest solutions.
  • Successful solutions will move people by satisfying their needs, giving meaning to their lives and raising their hopes and expectations.
  • Exceptional problems demand exceptional solutions that may be radical and even disruptive.
  • Effective solutions will be collaborative, inclusive and developed with the people who use them.
  • No solution should be developed or delivered in isolation but should instead recognise the social, physical and information systems it is part of.
  • Every solution needs to be a robust, responsible and designed with regard to its long-term impact the environment and society.


  • Good design is innovative
  • Good design makes a product useful
  • Good design is aesthetic
  • Good design makes a product understandable
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is long-lasting
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible

*Dieter Rams, Ten principles for good design


Run correctly this creative process will bring out desired behaviours in the individuals taking part. These behaviours will initially be reactions against the process, aggressively defending the way they have been taught to think since childhood. Support and encouragement from the facilitators, rather than correction will allow the participants to see the benefit and strengths of the new process and will quickly engage at a higher level.

As each phase of the creative process comes to an end and the next one begins, participants will instantly revert to their prior learned behaviour and will need to be pulled back into team centred, divergent thinking. Allow mini cycles of divergent—convergent thinking in the initial stages as the participants get comfortable but steer them away from reliance over time.

Contrary to common educational practice, students learn from what they experience and not from what they are told. Facilitators/Managers of the process need to stay focused on the bigger picture and not allow themselves to get stuck in details that may seem important in the moment but run against the overall experience of the participant. Consistency across the whole delivery team is vital and gives the participants clear indications of what they boundaries are.

In instances where specific learning outcomes need to be met, care will need to be taken in the correct construction of the brief so they are achieved naturally. Telling participants what the learning outcomes are before or during the process will prevent them from embracing the creative process and developing truly innovative work.

Creativity and innovation is only successful if the environment supports it. Cultural and personal conditioning needs to be acknowledged early. If the company, institution, course or session doesn’t adapt to the needs of the processes of innovation and the creative individual neither will exist in any meaningful way. Facilitators/managers supply the environment and tools required, but need to trust those involved and the process to deliver unexpected results. Contributions by those overseeing the sessions only guide the process and avoid contribution or deliberate steering.

The physical environment in which the creative process takes place is very flexible and often takes many forms. What is vital is that the space provided is allowed be covered from head to toe in the inspirations, illustrations diagrams etc. gathered during the each of the creative process phases described below. Where clear walls are not available, painted 8x4 MDF boards should be made available. A team of four participants would be expected to fill between 4 & 6 of these boards in the development of their brief.

Supplies should be freely available and plentiful. Sharpies, Letraset TRIO or Pro markers, Postits of all shapes colours and sizes, plasticine, glue and coloured paper; including white.

Rules of engagement

Before work can begin with a new creative team or group of teams it is important that some ground rules are established and very clearly and consistently enforced (enforced may seem harsh, but clear boundaries are not a bad thing).

  • One conversation at a time
  • There are no bad ideas
  • Fail early and fail often
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Go for volume
  • Be optimistic
  • Collaborate
  • Listen
  • Inspire
  • Encourage
  • Steal ideas, build on the ideas of others
  • Recognise others
  • Think with your hands
  • Defer Judgement

The initial success of project flowing through the creative process is influenced heavily by culture. Culture can be of any scale, department, organization, region, country and needs to be considered and adjusted for. Not all people/peoples are preconditioned to finding solutions, opportunities or problems worth exploring. Not all people are hardwired to be difficult but some are, find a way around them. If you have to take them head on, play to win but don't make a hero out of them.

Team dynamics: Swapping individuals

Throughout the process learning facilitators should be trying to create even teams. By even we mean functionally rather than structurally, acknowledging that individuals perform differently in different combinations. Good combinations are vibrant and productive. Spotting poor combinations is relatively easy, as the productivity of the team will be greatly reduced. Participants should be moved, as needed rather then waiting for a break in the process.

Dominant Leader

Teams should be flat in structure, with all members being equal. Some participants will see it as their duty to take control of the situation and lead the conversation and the direction of the concepts. While this behavior might be rewarded in other settings, it does little to develop the brief or the other individuals in the team. In most cases, drawing attention to this behavior and offering guidance as to the desired structure is enough to redirect the performance of the team.

Doubting/Questioning Member

For most people being asked to trust the process and defer judgment is enough, but for others the urge to question is too great. Nothing is more corrosive to the creative process than questions that narrow the thought process. Conversations should encourage divergent thinking, wild ideas and should be optimistic. There is plenty of time later for the tough questions. Teams exhibiting this behavior will require closer facilitation for a short period, until the team begins to defer judgment.

“What market is there for this idea?” in isolation this seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask of an idea/product/service. Where these type of questions become the wrong questions becomes clear when we are trying to generate a volume of ideas. In the inspire phase it is important to establish the possible market opportunities for the outcome of the brief, with opportunities being the key phrase. “Opportunities” as an adjunct to a question is like adding a firework rather then a bomb to the creative process.

In the conceptualize phase the type of questions we ask become far more important. Questions should only offer opportunities, energies to the concepts that are being formed. We can trust that the process will give ample opportunity for tough questions later. The aim of the conceptualize phase is to generate a large volume of ideas/concepts. A team of four should be aiming for in the region of 100-200 concepts. There are several reasons for this level of output:

  • Initial ideas will be tied very closely to already established notions (clichéd)
  • Only by exhausting the known to we create opportunity for the unknown to emerge
  • By encouraging the ridiculous and bending the parameters of the brief we can discover new opportunities
  • Through the development of narrative we start seeing the linkages between concepts and start sowing the seeds of innovation
  • As concepts come together through their natural evolution, markets and new opportunities will emerge

As we refine the leading concepts the type of questions become more focused but still leave the door wide open for change and opportunity. The questioner should always see themselves as an explorer, rather then a doubter. As the team becomes more skilled, it gains the ability to inform the doubter as to their impact on the process and suggest a redirection.

It is only in the evaluation phase that our concepts are finally strong enough to stand up on their own two feet and face the brunt of tough questioning. Even still, while we are open to all questions it is also the responsibility of the questioner to suggest possible solutions. Not fire and forget or shrug shoulders and say they don’t know. Evaluation is steps of stairs, with a parachute. Evaluation is also the polishing phase of the narrative that accompanies the concepts. As the concept climbs the steps provided by questioning the story evolves, where the question knocks the concept back to earth the narrative can alter in order to fit the new need. The Ponderer

Quiet, deep thinkers are great in a classroom and in a team, but too many together creates a quiet and unproductive unit. Redistributing the deep thinkers across multiple teams will improve the situation.

Finding the right combination of teammates can be effortless or quite difficult depending on the group. Issues should be addressed within the group rather than pulling one person aside, quite often the group will have an alternate perspective on the situation and inform the solution. Over time each team will learn to self manage.

Team rotation across projects

A key component of facilitating team based creative thinking processes, is the requirement that teams repeatedly move around projects. There are a number of important reasons for this dynamic:

Ideation—Going for Volume

More people, means more ideas. Mastering a process requires repetition; by moving the teams to a new project while still in the same phase of the process, allows them to get a better feel for what it is they are trying to achieve and how to identify the appropriate level of output and innovation.

Team Development—Building the Broader Team

The process is designed around the personal journey of the individual participant. Part of this personal development is the recognition of the individual’s contribution to their team. Secondary to this is the relationship between teams. As a healthy competitiveness develops between teams, it is vital to the advancement of the individual that they see how each team is interdependent and builds on the contribution of the other teams.

Energy Management—Maintaining a Positive Atmosphere

As each project develops through each stage of the process each team will loose energy as they run out of ideas. Until each individual learns to push through this wall and develop fresher more innovative ideas, it is important to build confidence and avoid disheartenment. Observing the energy levels within the group will inform as to when the right time to switch is.

Presentation Skills—The Confident Communicator

Team rotation also offers a unique opportunity to develop key skills in the participant. As one team passes off their concepts to the next team, each person quickly realizes after a few exchanges that clear communication is vital to the survival of their ideas. Only ideas with a strong, easily repeatable narrative develop past a couple of rotations. Participants also quickly learn another key communication skill and that is to ask the appropriate questions of the team whose work they are going to be taking over. Not asking the right questions makes building on the work of others much more difficult and lowers productivity.

This continuous development of narrative and questioning, builds on both the confidence of the participant but also on their knowledge of the subject area. Individuals learn that their teammates will have answers to their questions as well as questions of their own. The development of these skills makes a marked difference in the more formal presentations, which are far more mature than those of equivalent students engaging in other methods of delivery.

Failure to engage in timely rotations represents a lost opportunity for key skill development and will have a very negative impact on the overall performance of the group. As the team spends to long in each key stage, they will become demoralized as they run out of ways of generating new ideas. A disillusioned team requires a disproportionate amount of facilitation to get back on track and the negativity can spread rapidly. To short a time and they will be unable to experience the feeling of running out of ideas, which is hugely important to the process.

Capturing and evaluation of creative sessions

Facilitation of the creative process runs in two very distinct streams. One experienced by the Facilitation/Management team and the other experience is that of the creative participants.

It is important that the creative participant stream is completely insulated from the bumps and glitches within the Facilitator/Management stream and that they experience a cleanly run machine within which they feel the confidence to express themselves openly.

Programme Evaluation


Quick Facilitator/Management meetings should be held at the end of each session. These should be stand up meetings and should last no longer then 15 minutes. Focus is on:

  • What worked?
  • Where the scheduled goals met?
  • What went wrong?
  • How was our individual performance and as a team?
  • What can we do better tomorrow?
  • Creative participant performance, are their any problem individuals who need greater stimulus?

These meetings are not recorded, they are informal and purely to maintain the quality of the programme.


Less than 45 minute, Facilitators/Management minuted meetings, which occur weekly in long programmes or at the end of short programmes. These meetings are designed to capture a review of the week/programme based on the questions above while it is still fresh.

Creative Participant Evaluation

Capturing feedback from the participants throughout the process is vital to the success of future delivery. Questionnaires should be designed carefully so they inform the process rather than purely please the priorities of the delivery team, institution or funding body.

Association Methods

Are group-based activities, which can be used to a lesser extent by the individual. They have no boundaries and rely on spontaneous reaction and Quantity of ideas. As the name suggests they deal with ideas associated with the problem (Near and Far association) Creativity within Association methods,as mentioned above relies on a process which must be spontaneous in its nature in order to generate as many ideas as possible. This process is a collective of different processes encapsulated by the familiar title Brainstorming. For all methods a general guideline exists known as The 3 component model for creativity .

© Conánn FitzPatrick 1971-2016