In our definition, a CoLaboratory is an inclusive learning environment where learning, research and creativity meet. It involves the active collaboration of a diversified group of participants that bring in different perspectives on a given issue or topic.
In an open space, activity is organized around issues rather than functions, disciplines or theory. Such issues could include: culture, process re-engineering, leadership, learning, change, system migration, new organizational models, management education, and similarly, pressing organizational matters. These issues are usually complex, messy and hard to resolve, demanding creative, systemic and divergent approaches. The CoLaboratory’s primary aim is to foster collective creativity through collaborative conversation and interaction. The CoLaboratory is a physical or virtual place where people can think, work, learn together and co-invent their respective futures.
The tools of the interaction can be musical, artistic or literary. We’ve had several successful CoLabs utilizing everyday office materials — tape, file folders, rulers, pens, pencils, stickers, post-it notes and string. In other cases, we’ve used pvc pipe, rubber gloves, balloons, coat hangers and styrofoam balls. In one particularly interesting CoLab, the participants made awards for employee performance out of pipe cleaners, colored thumbtacks and Play-Doh! In all of these examples, the unleashed creativity not only clarified the issue at hand but also provided a fun, inspiring and powerful team building experience.
The eventual product of these meetings can easily be transferred back into workplace challenges. The metaphorical thinking that it engenders is a meaningful, but creative way of loosening up the sometimes frustrating and confusing situations we find in the chaotic and pressurized world of work today. It alleviates the blaming and finger pointing of a failure or mistake and transforms it into an exciting learning opportunity. It underscores the power of creativity, both for the individual and the group and serves as a reminder of the possibilities and opportunities that surround us all the time.
In the end, we can be reminded of how much more effective we can be when we open up, look to one another and focus our energy in an improvisational approach to problem solving. As a good friend of ours once said, “Having fun can be serious work, too.”