Why Design Sprints are not team building events

Design Sprints are the new approach to innovation everybody is talking about. But as the hype is growing there is also a growing danger. You could use the approach in a wrong way and then create new problems. You could do all this without fixing the problems you wanted to challenge.

Is Design Sprint (also known as Innovation Sprint) a new word for you? Then we recommend that you first read our previous article on the subject, Design Sprint, an Innovation Process. In this article, we will mainly use the term Design Sprint to describe the same approach. Another interesting read is the description of innovation sprints by Google Venture.

The innovation theater

In the past years, we have seen in the innovation world what many of us call the innovation theater. The innovation theater is basically using all the same fancy methods innovative teams are using… without the will to bring real change. It’s just theater. It feels interesting, it’s entertaining but it isn’t real life.

Innovation methods *can* become team building activities

motivated team

When Design Thinking became mainstream, everyone wanted their own little Design Thinking moment. Every company wanted its own Design Thinking event, workshop or training.

The more Design Thinking became known, the more companies saw it as another tool in their team building toolbox. HR managers started to see it more as a tool to have a fun creative moment together but that also counts as work. They didn’t get that this approach can create deep changes implying a huge commitment.

The early team building events were often just fun. Maybe you took part in a paintball party or some fun rafting session. Basically, team building just had to be different and more fun than work. Now with budgets being lower, there is still the intention to create a bit of entertainment for staff members. But managers need these entertainment moments to also be useful for the company.

Hence the boom of design thinking workshops taken as a fun, creative moment.

But you might ask: why is that a problem? Innovation approaches like Design Thinking are not just a method but they also require a change of mindset and culture. For Design Thinking to work, you need to invest in it. For Design Thinking to work, you need to make some changes in the way your company works today.

Having a one-day Design Thinking event is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg. Sure it helps a bit and you can see a difference. But for the change to really happen, you need more time and commitment.

Innovation methods work very well when there’s a commitment. When innovation methods are used to entertain, then they just do that. They entertain but do not produce any significant change. Even worse: when innovation methods are only entertainment, they can create disbelief.

In the worst case, such events create frustration among teams. Then they won’t want to try out any other innovation method. Teams start to think that real change will never happen. And in the end, these frustrated teams prefer to embrace the status quo.

Three traps of Design Sprints

Design sprints are in the rising hype moment. It’s possible that Design Sprints, as Design Thinking before, start to be used more as a team building activity than as a real change process. To avoid that, we think it is important to acknowledge what happened in the past as we did earlier in this article.

But it’s also important to break a bit the hype by showing the less sexy parts of the Design Sprint approach.

Design Sprints are hard work

working hard

In fact, running a Design Sprint is a real commitment. You have to put on full week on the side to go through the whole process. During this week, you will experience hard and focused work. No emails from other projects, no quick meetings. No, you will just be focused on one challenge.

A Design Sprint without decision makes it useless

Running a Design Sprint without any decision maker is like throwing away one week of work. Design sprints are a co-creative process. They need the involvement of the decision makers. If the decision makers are not present, then your sprint will be a nice company trip. You will have fun ideas that will never happen.

Design Sprints are just the start

sprint

A Design Sprint is a good tool to transform a concept into something tangible that you can try out. Design Sprints are very good to discover if an idea should be pursued or not. But don’t believe that after just one week of time you will have the perfect end product in hand. If you start a design sprint with this mindset, then the frustration will be extreme. And in the end, your staff members will be reluctant to enter any other innovation process.

A good design sprint has enormous potential

We strongly believe that innovation approaches, like Design Sprints, bring a real Return On Investment (ROI) for companies.

Speaking about ways to develop web applications, Jakob Nielsen strongly advocates Design-Sprint as bringing great ROI:

“The most common estimate is that it’s 100 times cheaper to make a change before any code has been written than it is to wait until after the implementation is complete”

In order to have this ROI, you need to really invest in the method. So before you start thinking about starting a sprint, we recommend that you check this video from the creators of the design sprint. It’s a 52-minute video. But it will be your first real commitment to experiencing real Design Sprints.