As the end of lockdown arrives we have been looking back on the journey we have all been on since COVID crashed the party. I think this past 18 months have taught us a lot about collaboration and co-design. One thing that seems obvious is that our leaders, and indeed all of us, have been doing things differently lately. This pandemic has challenged us on many fronts, providing the impetus and the permission to think and act in more collaborative ways, to solve things together. We also hear from clients that something similar is happening in the workplace. There is a lot of change, a lot of complexity and high levels of uncertainty out there, making co-design more important than ever.

So what are the co-design lessons from the pandemic that can be applied in the workplace and beyond? You will have your own list, but here is ours:

  1. Get comfortable not knowing the answer. It seems there is always something we don’t know, so accept uncertainty because it isn’t going away.Learn to act, even when the right action isn’t obvious.
  2. Expect the unexpected. When it’s complex, there will always be surprises and our plans will always need to be flexible.
  3. Build relationships as well as structure. Strong relationships are the foundation of resilience in a changing world. Focus on relationships even more than the data or the process.High levels of trust make the tough times more manageable.
  4. Ask for help. Even the most capable leader won’t have all the skills, knowledge and resilience to manage every situation. Ask for help to be more effective and to share the creativity, energy and accountability.
  5. Just try stuff. Don’t wait for the answer to reveal itself as it often won’t. Rather, test ideas and learn the way forward together.
  6. Do it ‘with’ people. Command and control quickly reaches its limits and any complex system will find ways around your ‘rules’. Instead, move ahead collaboratively. Co-design the pathway out.
  7. Tap into the expertise of others. Your stakeholders are the system you are dealing with, so invite them in to help. Their knowledge and experience is an essential piece of the puzzle.

There are other lessons I’m sure. But if I can learn even these lessons and build them into my thinking and my ‘doing’, I feel certain I will be better prepared for the complex and ever-changing world we live in.

What has COVID taught you?