#53 The Collaboration Designer

I first met Rich Watkins in my friend Tom's kitchen. As well as setting up global collaborative art projects, Rich is the founder of Lets Go; a team of four committed to helping society get more from collaboration. I'm always on the hunt for interesting people to interview. When I asked the internet who I should talk to Alessandra nominated Rich and I remembered being intrigued and impressed with his thinking when we first met! His team have just launched a Kickstarter campaign - a deck of cards that puts 30 practical and powerful conversations on the table - moving collaborative groups towards their potential.  Here's what he has to say...

Over the last 10 years, I’ve built a simple but helpful way of understanding how groups work to get things done, and I realised back last summer that to turn this into powerful tools I needed help. And who wants to be a collaboration expert on their own? It’s been quite a ride - I’m learning how much more you can do as a group and the value in being surrounded by other people’s ideas. I’m learning how to make a bigger business work. I’m learning how to live with ambiguity and uncertainty in the face of a big ambition. Perhaps my biggest lessons are how much more fun it is to be in a team and the joy of turning clever ideas into helpful products.

What’s your burning question of the moment?

How can society get better at working in groups? We seem to be slowly waking up from our obsession with the individual. After all, we are born in groups, we live in groups and most of what we do that is good is done in groups. But we aren’t very skilful at navigating groups or very wise about how groups work – which means collaboration theoretically sounds great but is often practically very challenging. We have hundreds of personality tests and models to deepen our self-awareness. All of this is good. But to make/create/design complex things we will need a deeper group awareness. Our Let’s Go model outlines the five dynamics you need to navigate to get things done in groups (belief, structure, involvement, progress and care) and certainly helps with this. But like any model, it’s not a magic wand. If we really want to get better at working together, we need a whole host of helpful tools and simple ideas. Our success is more than ever linked to how well we work together.


What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen/ heard/ read in the last year?

It’s been a few years now that I’ve been gravitating to ideas around groups as being slightly different from mere collections of separate individuals. We can think of the group having a life of its own, as a total system rather than as a collection of parts. The Gestalt Centre’s group facilitation programme is a great immersion in holistic group process, the Goldsmiths short course on anthropology of religion, Myth Magic and Ritual, is rich with interesting concepts about collective identity, and Linda Hill has a good TEDx talk (and books) that speaks to some of the practicalities around this

What would be your one piece of advice to students out there?

The time will come when threads tie together. There is a lot of pressure to know the “path” you are on and where you are headed. But if you pursue multiple things that you love, even if they feel very disjointed and unrelated, life will find a way to tie them together. Don’t be tricked into focusing too much. The same advice leads us to keep growing up, rather than to arrive at being “grown up”. Life and purpose emerge, it doesn’t arrive. Most of us will achieve the most significant things in our life in our mid to late 40s so let’s worry less about figuring it out. The growing up process has been in place for the whole of human history. Keep doing things you love. Focus on getting better. No rush.