Who are design thinking or innovation coaches


When working in the field of design thinking and innovation projects, the classic system of a team and a supervising coach is usually used. The team creates as good a cross-section of the company as possible in terms of age, gender, hierarchy levels and functions. The more mixed and varied the people, the more potential there is for creative work. The team ideally consists of five to six people and a coach. This constellation has proven to be very good over years of research and practice. (More information on the topic in the book Design Thinking Research)

While the function of the team and its ideal structure and composition are quite clear, the role of the coach and his approach is less clearly established. There are many different views and opinions on how a coach should oversee a design thinking team. Especially when it comes to the extent to which a coach is actively involved in the team and how his opinions and ideas flow into the teamwork, there is a lot of discussion. There is a wide range of possibilities, ranging from exclusive guidance and teaching of the methodology to full integration into the team. We believe in the middle ground and intelligent flexibility towards the team.
A coach must be able to correctly assess and understand his team. Just as empathy is required and promoted during the design thinking process and especially in the interaction with users and users, the coach must also apply a lot of empathy towards his team. This begins with the analysis of the individual team members and their level of experience, professional specialization and background knowledge. But soft skills, character traits and communication behavior of the individual team members also play a role. Team warmups and other team building techniques can then be used to understand and improve the team's interaction.

Ultimately, however, the project assignment also plays a major role. Projects with a pure output focus must be moderated differently than those that are long-term related and have a culture-changing mandate. The first is primarily about making the best use of a team with its various skills through design thinking methods in relation to innovation and generating results. Here, the coach may find his role more in that of the team leader, who specifies the steps, shows ways and maybe even - with a view to the project assignment - acts in a directional manner.

But if it is also about promoting team spirit, cooperation in general and even the culture in the company in a long-term focus, the role of the coach may shift more towards mentor and “teacher”. Instead of unconditionally focusing the team on results from the start, it is also about enabling the team to gain experience, learn and work more and more independently. The Design Thinking methodology and the underlying techniques, strategies and user-centered perspectives are also explained and illuminated. At the same time, however, the learning experience should also focus on improving collaboration and interaction using design thinking approaches.

Working as a coach therefore rarely corresponds to the pure presentation of techniques and theories. Experience in design thinking is rarely enough for coaching teams. Only if a coach is able to see both the individual and the team as a whole in its different facets and to understand and connect the project mandate precisely is it possible to define a good balance for the functionality and role and to carry out the coaching tasks successfully.