Brainstorming without a cloudy sky

Collecting ideas to start a new project

When we start a new project at LemonWorks, one of our favorite things to do is get to know the people we’re working with. This goes for pretty much everything we do, from organisations that need a new office, training or consulting.

In this article, we’ll share with you how we get in touch with the people that ask for our help designing a new office space or improving an existing one.

The first thing we do when we meet a new client is to visit their office and see how people work. No matter how far we have to go, we’ll be there! This is the moment when we get to talk with the person that called us in the first place and understand their expectation about our work.

Once we’re all on the same page about what the new project should be, we start designing workshops and interviews that are tailored for the teams that will be part of the creative process.

To make it easier for everyone to share their thoughts, these sessions are done in small groups, from 2 to 8 people. Depending on the activities we want to do, the workshops can go for 1 or 2 hours and the interviews take between 15 and 30 minutes.

So what exactly do we do in these sessions?

Right now, anything is possible

When the teams meet us for the workshop, we start by asking then what do they imagine we are going to do or talk about.

This gives everyone the opportunity to share their expectations and what they were told about the plans for the new office. In some cases people tell us “we heard that everyone will be in an open space, so there’s no point in asking if we could have separate rooms for teams” when there was actually, absolutely no plan of what the new office would be like! It’s important to catch this “we heard or we know” assumptions so that we can dismiss them (if they are not valid) and go to the anything is possible mode.

What do I want?

Once the team gets on board of the creative boat we just need to help’em go through their journey. Of course, it’s possible to start by asking “what’s your dream office?”, but as we get more experience doing these workshops we noticed that this question could be more scary than helpful…

Asking this question is not so different from telling someone: 
 “I’m going to give you free access to Netflix and you have 1 minute to choose the best movie they have available for us to watch.”

Chances are the person will either block or end up picking up something random (maybe because the ranking is not so bad) just to respect the 1 minute rule.

Although your intention was the best, the result of the experience is not so good, right?

Maybe the other person just felt pressure to give you an answer and ended up feeling more frustrated than confident about his decision.

To avoid these situations, we design creative moments based on experiences that people can relate with, such us “could you describe us something you like in your current workplace? Why do you like that?” or “if you could improve something in the office what would that be?”. One of the simplest ways to understand the team dynamics is to ask about their lunch or coffee breaks — if they all stop at the same time and where do they go for these breaks.

If you want to experience this first hand try to gather two groups of people:
- to the 1st group ask: “what would be the perfect kitchen for your office?”
- to the 2nd group ask: “what do you do in your lunchtime?”
After doing this, try to design a kitchen for the first and the second group and see the differences.

The main goal of this group talk it’s to focus on human behaviours. How people move in the office, what makes them comfortable and understanding what they need to focus and bring best self to the office.

From talk to lego

To collect the key points from the team answers we use post-it. Up first everyone writes what they’d like to keep or improve, then we have a quick sharing session where we look at the post-it and try to organize them by topic or area.

This is a cool exercise because it gives the team the opportunity to become aware of everyone’s needs and priorities.

At this point we already got to know the team and create an idea board with the post-it, it’s time to get practical.

This is where we get the legos on the table!

Each team has total freedom to create an office with legos. Because we already made people aware of their needs, it’s likely that they will design a space that considers the key topics previously discussed and quickly find some struggle to attend everyone’s wishes. When this happens we let’em talk and figure the best solution, the more they discuss the more we get to learn about them and understand how we can help.

The lego challenge is particularly helpful to understand what people imagine for the informal spaces — lounge, kitchen or the playroom. Why? Because they invest more time building these spaces than the formal work areas.

When people think about formal work areas, usually they assume you just need a desk and a chair, so they don’t think much about it.

Pick Me!

From the lego exercise we get a glimpse of all the spaces people consider important in the office, but in terms of look&feel we don’t get much. That’s why we like to finish the sessions with the pick’in polaroids game.

This is a simple and quick exercise where we give each person a pile of polaroid with photos of existing offices. We divide the pile in 7 groups -reception, workstation, meeting room, booth, lounge, kitchen and auditorium — and ask everyone to choose their favorite image of each group. Once they chose the polaroids we talk about what they like in the photos or not — the furniture, the finishes or colors — and what makes sense for their organisation.

This is how we get through brainstorming without a cloudy sky! For us it’s about keeping it simple and playful. We try to create a relaxed atmosphere where everyone has the opportunity to share their thoughts and became part of the creative process of designing their future workspace.