3 Approaches For Tackling Collaboration Challenges

Laura Sweltz, Director of UX Research and Strategic Initiatives

Article Category: #Strategy

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As a UX Designer at Viget, I’m often responsible for guiding the collaborative conversations that we have both internally and with our clients throughout the design and development process.  Collaboration generates stronger ideas and better final products, but only when it works well.  Whether it’s attendees that don’t know their purpose, participants that don’t want to open up, or a team that doesn’t know or trust one another, there are plenty of challenges that can occur while collaborating that get in the way of making actual progress.  When faced with issues like these, I like to lean on the following three approaches:

1. Empathize with Your Co-Collaborators

When we facilitate a collaborative meeting, we are crafting an experience.  As UX designers, we constantly push ourselves to empathize with our users.  I feel a similar responsibility to empathize with my co-collaborators. 

Put yourself in your co-collaborators’ shoes to figure out the best approach to facilitation.  Someone who’s never worked in a collaborative setting that involves sketching interfaces may be hesitant to pick up a pen and draw in front of a group.  A shy co-worker may not feel comfortable sharing his ideas with the groups unless he receives as much information as possible ahead of time and has plenty of time to think and formulate ideas.

Try to understand how your co-collaborators might feel and, more importantly, have the compassion to do something about it.  If we ensure that they are comfortable, we will create a space where people are actually excited to collaborate. 


2. Break The Group Up

I find it difficult to get the conversation rolling and hear everyone’s perspective when collaborating with a large group.  If I’m facilitating a discussion with more than 5-6 people, I’m probably going to break the group up at some point. 

At the beginning of a conversation, I create smaller groups containing 2-3 people.  When both the client and the internal team are participating, I like to form groups that include members of each team.  Each group discusses the topic individually.  I often walk around and listen in on the conversations and provide feedback or help push the discussion along.  When I bring the whole group back together again, everyone is more comfortable sharing their ideas because they’ve already thought about the topic and come up with a joint perspective. 

Breaking the group up helps get the conversation off to a better start and makes it easier to hear more perspectives. 


3. Try Something New

I have been an hour into an all-day meeting to find that my planned agenda just isn’t cutting it.  The conversation isn’t flowing and we’re not getting the answers we need.  The exercise I’m attempting to facilitate falls flat.  My expectations and the client’s expectations for the project are not aligned.  When that happens, I keep calm.  It just means that it’s time to try something new. 

I find that small tweaks such as re-wording your questions or asking a different person can help re-route an entire conversation and get the answers you need.  If the group doesn’t respond to an exercise, I like to re-group and try to present it a different way; replace it with another exercise, or just move to a guided conversation.  If expectations are misaligned, I bring in a member of the project management or business development team to help reset those expectations and bring the group to consensus. 

It’s important to prepare yourself with a backup plan for when things don’t go as planned and to not fear mixing things up and trying something different. 


There are countless challenges that can occur while collaborating with our clients and peers, but remembering to empathize with your co-collaborators, break the group up, and try something new can go a long way to helping you overcome them.  I believe that effective collaboration enhances my ability to do my best work, so when roadblocks come up, I remind myself they are worth overcoming.  If you have your own approaches for dealing with collaboration challenges, I’d love to hear about them.

Laura Sweltz

Laura is Viget's Director of UX Research and Strategic Initiatives. She works from our Durham, NC office, where she helps clients like Rotary International, AARP, and Time Life understand the needs and behaviors of their users.

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