Collaborating and working together in a group can help get many hands and minds involved in solving a problem, offering a diversity of insights. However, working independently also can enable creativity to flourish and allows people time to mold and shape their ideas. But who says you have to choose one over the other?
One collaborative technique, which leverages the benefits of both of these working styles, is known as diverge and converge. The diverging converge collaboration method has two stages a diverge stage in which team members work independently to produce their individual insights. And then they converge stage where they discuss the results of the diverge phase as a group in order to decide upon some collective output. This technique not only gives you the benefits of both working alone and with a group, but it also helps to counteract the weaknesses of each of the working styles. A common problem with group work is group think. A strong personality or someone in a senior position may quickly state their opinion and insight. And because people don’t have the time to really synthesize their ideas before someone speaks up, then they may instead defer to that earlier sentiment rather than formulate their own understanding. Consequently, variations in perspective become unspoken, or, if they are spoken, frowned upon in favor of that dominating belief or opinion. Diverging to generate ideas or insights can enable people equal amounts of time to synthesize their ideas, their thoughts, and to help give people time with their ideas without being judged for them too early. Exclusively working alone, though, means that you have a single perspective that you’re working from yours and therefore a pool of thoughts, ideas and observations, all inspired by a singular perspective.
Plus, if you’re working on a complex problem or a massive data set, then you will be limited on how productive you can be with that data set. As the saying goes, many hands make light work. Converging after an initially diverged phase can statistically increase the odds of finding the right solution and also increase output when analyzing large amounts of data. The key to success is to preserve diversity of inputs and expedite the generation of outputs. So diverge first, converge after. If you converge first, you lose all the benefits of diverging, defeating the purpose of doing it in the first place. So here’s how you introduce the concept in your next collaborative activity. First, strictly enforced divergent time as quiet time and convergent time as talking time. This helps to prevent those who think aloud from disrupting anyone who’s trying to concentrate. Next, banned the words no or but we need to ensure that people feel safe enough to share their unique ideas, the words no or but tend to raise tension and therefore decrease the likelihood that people will raise opposing or alternative ideas to any existing options. So ironically, by banning the words no or but tension is less likely and in turn, alternative ideas can flow more freely. You can use this method for a variety of collaborative activities. You can have multiple researchers diverge to run concurrent user research and avoid researcher bias and then converge to compile the research insights. You can also diverge to analyze the research insights and then converge during design, thinking, mapping activities like empathy, mapping or journey mapping. You can even diverge to ideate on existing design problems and then converge to iterate upon those ideas and prioritize your prototyping efforts. No matter how you use this technique.
Diverging first, then converging after can help your team benefit from multiple working styles and take your design process to the next level.