Supporting the Group Leads to Increased Communication and Creativity

Interview with IdeaConnection Facilitator Rowan Oloman
Rowan Oloman was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, and has a master’s degree in environmental resource management from the University of New South Wales, Australia. In the fall of 2010 she’s embarking on an MBA in sustainable business at Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Currently she works part-time as a researcher and writer in the green tech sector, mostly for climate change mitigation technologies, and part-time as a facilitator for international conservation and humanitarian aid projects in South America and Asia.

Rowan has 10 years experience facilitating diverse groups in both the public and private sectors and was quizzed by IdeaConnection about her role as a facilitator on a number of challenges.

photo of Rowan Oloman
What attracted me to IdeaConnection was the ability to work with diverse, creative minds on interesting projects that allow you to think outside of the box.

So far I have worked on three challenges and they have all been rewarding.

What is great about working for IdeaConnection is the diversity of challenges. So far I have been involved with two chemistry projects and a safe water treatment project. All three projects have been very different in their scope and demanded a slightly different approach.

Both of the chemistry projects were fairly analytical, but dealt with completely different industries. The safe water treatment project on the other hand was more human-centered, and the solution was based on an understanding of the region’s social and environmental issues. The neat thing about all three projects was their focus on creating solutions for the common good.

My work as a facilitator is about supporting the group rather than directing the process. I create a space where team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, and this leads to increased communication and creativity among the solvers.

On IdeaConnection challenges the problem solvers are generally the geniuses and the facilitators are mostly there to ensure that the process is both efficient and effective.

If one solver excels at background research and another is better at thinking creatively, my job is to work with and support those strengths. This ensures that the problem solvers are happy and confident about the work they are undertaking and so the whole team benefits.

In addition, creating an efficient and effective problem solving process requires excellent time management, and as a facilitator my job is to keep the team on task.

The rapport between team members is incredibly important. Once team members understand that everyone has something valuable to offer and that it is not a competition, the rapport that is created is what fuels the problem solving process. When you have creative minds working together they feed off of each other and the creativity blooms.

There is a lot of value in having team members from different backgrounds, disciplines and cultures. Not only does each person offer a different perspective because of their academic experience, but their cultural background may greatly affect the outcome of the challenge too.

For instance, working on a safe water treatment process for a community in Africa our team members included a solver from Uganda and a solver from India. Both these solvers offered creative ideas for treating water based on processes they had seen used in their home countries. These different perspectives enabled us to create a solution that was much more global in perspective, and perhaps more feasible in the country for which we were creating the solution.

A team environment creates the space to bounce ideas off other individuals with expertise in the area of your challenge. When one solver shares an idea with the others on the team they gain valuable insight into whether or not the solution has potential. The beauty of working with IdeaConnection is that solvers have the ability to work both as an individual and as part of a team. This system works for solvers who enjoy independent thinking as well as working with a group.

What are the most satisfying parts of the challenge solving process?
Being part of a creative thinking process, and working as a group to expand on ideas to make them come to life!

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