Team Empathy Workshop findings at DGTF Unconference

Daniela Marzavan collaborated with Dr. Emma Jefferies, The Design Doctors founder to host a workshop at DGTF 2014 to explore how to help creative and innovation teams improve collaboration and trust through using creative empathy tools. Daniela lecturer in ‘Design Thinking and Human Values’ at HTW Berlin and guest lecturer at the ELISAVA Barcelona. Currently Daniela is at the Bauhaus-university Weimar conducting her PhD research on Design Thinking within organizations.

Beforehand: The Space


Daniela and Emma have improvised standing tables for the group work, as we want people to feel they could explore and move around the space. We shared Richard Sennett: Together 2012 four elements of collaboration: sympathy and empathy and dialectical and dialogic with the participants of the workshop.


The Design Doctors

Then Daniela and Emma asked teams to build a physically ship to externalize how have communicate in design teams. Below are the ship the participants of the workshop created.

The Spaceship


The spaceship does not only act only in water but also in the air or on the ground. It is round and can turn in any direction anytime. The member have an eye inside and an eye outside the organization always reconnecting to their team after reflecting on the impact of their work to the outside world. The leader is not in the middle of this construction but rather underneath acting like a ‘booster’,  that infuses energy, direction or inspiration when needed. He/she leaves the ship quite often ensuring ownership of all crew members.

The Dictatorship


This group created the dictatorship to show dialectical and sympathetic collaboration. There is one leader convincing everyone else with arguments and figures of his expertise. The ‘red men’ go out in the world an conquer, pitch ideas and sell products and services. The rowing team-members are invisible but do an important job. Changing course is a difficult endeavour in this team as it needs complicated communication patterns and personal resentments might get in the way.

The Friendship


This group created the friendship to show the dialogic and empathetic collaboration. The crew feels like home, actually lives on the multifunctional ship. There is no real distinction between work and life. People feel safe in the friendly and familiar environment. A roof can be rolled out as soon as there is danger or a storm in sight. Solidarity plays an important role on the ship. Member help each other an can collaborate freely with people they need for a project and then change teams again.

Conclusions and Where Next?

During the workshop the workshop participants decided that there was not only one quadrant of communication patterns,  as teams often shift through different stages of communication depending on the phase of a design process. For example, if you were doing a social innovation project inside a favela in Rio, a design team start with being sympathetic to the people living there then develops empathy. The building of each ship enable the workshop participants to share and externalise their experience of collaborating in design an innovation teams they have worked with in the past. The people that created the dictatorship felt it showed how traditional design studio design team collaborated, where as the spaceship shared the culture of how interdisciplinary creative teams work alongside one another. Daniela and Emma see this workshop could be part of a good starting point to driving organizational change through co-creation. Give people that tools to have a voice in creating environment where their team feels creatively confidence.  In 2015, Daniela and Emma are intending to set sail for the Brazil, taking the Team Empathy workshops on tour around Brazil innovation organisations. They aim – to develop empathy tools and co-design new organisational models that create increase team collaboration and strengthen creativity, trust and pride.  They intent to share what they learn on their journey – so what this space!


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