"Helping multidisciplinary teams work more efficiently to reach superior results".
Today’s ever-changing social, cultural and technological environments have led a
growing number of companies to promote flat-organisations to facilitate their
multidisciplinary innovation initiatives.
Designers, marketers and engineers, with their different visions and methods, must
learn how to work together in the early stages of the process. The challenge lies in
laying the groundwork to make this magic to happen. A good example is a digital
service project for Orange conducted by Thierry Curiale, an Innovation Marketing
Director for this French multinational telecommunications company, in collaboration
with User Studio, a Paris-based service design agency. This article will illustrate how
a facilitator helped a multidisciplinary team reach successful results efficiently and
In 2011, Orange launched an exploratory project to devise a new service that would
allow customers to make virtual visits to France's top museums and their rich
collections. Although the service itself still needed to be defined, it was clear that its
development would require the expertise of a wide range of professionals, from
curators to marketers, designers, programmers and publishers.
The challenge of multidisciplinary teamwork
Bringing such diverse players to the same table can complicate a project. But it can
also create a favourable environment for its smooth implementation by pooling
resources straight from the start, making business, technical and human
considerations all part of the equation. This was not done in a collaborative project at
another French technology company involving a designer and programmer
prototyping a novel digital device. Though it was seen as promising, the product
never gained broad internal support. Had a marketer been brought in to provide
insight on how this device could figure on the telco's strategic roadmap, the project's
outcome may have been significantly different.
Traditionally, professionals have been more accustomed to a sequential project
culture than an integrated, agile one. In the "virtual" museum project, the participants
recognized the advantages of working as a multidisciplinary team but knew this
would be no easy feat. This is where Thierry Curiale, a marketing director with
experience in conducting highly collaborative initiatives, took on the role as the
Using facilitation to help teams co-create products or services is not new. Service
designers, like User Studio, have increasingly expanded their role, acting as "double
agents" working not only as designers but also as project team facilitators. Though
this has proved beneficial in winning over innovation team members to a design-led
project culture -- where visualization and prototyping are valued tools --, it requires a
delicate balance for which few designers have been trained or posses the right skills.
The Orange museum project offered a testing ground for an alternative innovation
model, one in which the facilitator plays a role independent from that of the designer.
We call this model “facilitator-aided innovation” and have identified a set of guidelines
to help facilitators incorporate the format into their own organisations.
Acting as a catalyst
During the different stages of a project, and notably the field research phase,
participants observe the same reality but from distinct personal and professional
perspectives. The facilitator acts as a catalyst to help the team achieve results bigger
than the sum of the parts. The Orange team members were all intent on translating a
real-life museum visit into a digital one, but their own experience as museum visitors
often reflected their professional orientation. The marketer appreciated an
information desk's friendly welcome, a designer was captivated by the immersive
Thierry Curiale et Matthew Marino (USER STUDIO)
experience of a silent exhibition room, a programmer focused on the detailed
approach of a science tour guide. Thierry, as facilitator, made sure the group reacted
to each other's impressions to construct a collective vision for the project by
reformulating and propagating the ideas amongst the participants.
The rules and tools of the game
To enhance such synergy, the following principles can help a facilitator customize the
rules, tools and methods for a given project:
- Cast the right team
Though favouring heterogeneous skills and disciplines, Thierry assembled a team of
no more than 12 with homogeneous values and cultural references. This was
essential to build team cohesion and avoid conflicts.
- Emphasize doing rather than bla bla bla…
Thierry made sure the entire museum team referred to the project as a "Do-Tank" --
rather than a "Think-Tank" -- and banned the traditional sort of meeting to "plan"
ideas while favouring action to put the ideas to work. Over a four-month period,
weekly workshops alternated with production days dedicated to crafting the project's
user experience, business model and functional mock-ups. This helped team
members recognize each other's legitimacy based on their production rather than
their position, and highlight the interplay of their varied professional expertise.
- Create a formal framework dedicated to exploring new ideas
The facilitator of the Orange museum project involved everyone in writing a team
contract. This offered a practical tool that not only established the rules of
collaboration but also sent out a symbolic message: a cross-silo, heterarchical space
dedicated to envisioning and testing new ideas. The contract included statements
such as: "Freedom of expression" or "Co-responsibility". Team members, for
example, felt sufficiently confident to oust from a workshop a guest speaker whose
comments they felt were irrelevant, despite his invitation by the facilitator.
- Delegate roles so production flows smoothly
The facilitator is not the ultimate authority, he may delegate functions to other team
members, focusing his responsibility on the overall flow of the innovation process.
Thierry Curiale et Matthew Marino (USER STUDIO)
For example, Thierry delegated the workshop logistics to a "host", the time
management to a "rhythm master", the production of time-bound results to
a "decision mobilizer", and the day's feedback to a "friendly observer", who would
suggest how to improve the next session's interactions. The division of responsibility
among team members spurred responsibility and collective accountability.
- Attribute leadership to each discipline when relevant
Although collaboration nourishes the collective thinking, the facilitator should specify
when each discipline steers the project's multifaceted execution. The marketers at
Orange influenced the strategic and business stages, the designers were entrusted
with defining the user experience, and the developers led the prototyping phases.
- Remeber to remain a project manager
Although communication, transparency and collaboration are promoted values, the
facilitator should not forget the realities of traditional project management, such as
focusing on meeting deadlines and staying within budgets.
Recruiting your own facilitator
Innovation directors seeking to recruit a facilitator might look for the following skills
- With a background in social sciences and broad understanding of multiple
disciplines, he knows how to deal with complex situations by embracing multiple
points of view.
- Experienced in group dynamics (and knowledgeable about its theory), his
leadership, project management and interpersonal communications skills create
- Promoting neutrality and generosity, he puts the project's interest before all other
considerations, acts in non-defensive ways, and avoids judging his team's
Expanding the innovation manager's toolbox
Innovation practitioners recognize a number of ingredients for success, such as
support from senior leadership and cross-silo collaboration. Leaders who wish to
promote flat-organisations must learn to embrace a new layer of facilitation skills. As
Thierry Curiale put it: "As we move away from hierarchical structures and open the
system, someone needs to act as the catalyst so things don’t overheat."
Thierry Curiale & Matthew Marino (USER STUDIO)