Mentoring in Design Jams: Four Tips

Mentoring a team in a Design Jam is an excellent way to sharpen your facilitation and leadership skills.

Lessons learned, and techniques I tried, at CityStarters and VISA Europe’s Jam to explore the future of payments #beyondplastic.

  1. Icebreaking
  2. Time Management
  3. “Yes, and…” facilitation
  4. Task Delegation


Simple icebreaking games can seem corny, especially to our British sense of reserve. However, when done well, they can help a diverse group of strangers rapidly coalesce into a team of co-creators with a dynamic to get them through the rest of the Jam. Dave Gray’s Gamestorming Wiki is a great place to start looking for ideas.

It’s also important for the mentor to stress that each team member is different. Everyone will have a different point of reference, aptitudes and experience. The team members may also wish to practice roles and skills that are underutilised in their normal life or role. Consider steering the group in this direction as a successor activity to the icebreaking.

Summary: icebreaking requires strong facilitation and prior preparation by the mentor, but it will setup the team dynamic for the rest of the activities.

Time Management

This is essential for the group to understand and meet its milestones and to progress successfully throughout the Jam. Look for and think about:

  • whether the group identifies this as a requirement?
  • do they allocate a role of timekeeper?
  • what kind of time management oversight is happening (and if it is effective)?
  • are they creating mini-milestones / chunking their time within a sprint?
  • have they factored for any contingency time?

Summary: each sprint is intense, and there can be multiple and concurrent conversations and workstreams. It’s easy for the team (and for the mentor) to forget about these essential criteria for successful delivery.

“Yes, and…” facilitation

The “Yes, and…” rule is one of the core protocols of improvised theatre. It’s designed to unlock creative ideas by deliberately preventing other team members from negating the contribution of someone in the team. Rather they must accept, build-upon and extend the idea by saying “Yes, and…” prior to their contribution. Some examples:

  • engenders an acceptance-based approach to new and unfamiliar ideas
  • helps defuse any ego and innate, or inherited, control assumptions brought into the Jam
  • facilitates rapid development of trust, collaboration, communication and confidence throughout the team

Summary: the mentor should observe the dynamic of the group and consider introducing “Yes, and…” if there are conflicts, exclusions or a limited level of communication, listening and creativity.

Task Delegation

It’s probable that the team will need to divide or work on parallel tasks during the sprints in the Jam. Ensure that you think about the diverse mix of skills and personalities that make up the team when this happens. This might be an opportunity to steer the team (or team members) into sub-teams that complement each other in terms of skill, or in terms of their personal benefit from the Jam.


  • pairing people with diverse or complementary attributes to help facilitate an exchange of skill and involvement in the task
  • forming smaller sub-teams so that quieter members of the group can make stronger contributions. These can then be reported back to the main team when it reforms.
  • achieving greater productivity within the time constraints and building trust within the team

It’s also important to watch for any splitting into factions that mars working toward their common objective. For example: continuing to work of parallel solutions after the idea storming phase is complete.

Summary: use the beginning of each sprint consider the team dynamic, the objectives of the team members and the task in hand. Provide guidance to the group as needed.

Find Design Jams

Johanna Kollmann used to run, and DesignJam London, but sadly this site was taken down in 2014. The only options I’m aware of are:

Let me know in the comments if this changes, or if there are more.


Here is a post-jam video summarising the experience (featuring Team Six!).

By Rik Williams

I write about how to collaborate to design simple, usable and inclusive information experiences that make the lives of customers easier. Read more in Categories and Tags.

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