Why I stopped doing Warm Ups…

Why I stopped doing warm ups in Design Thinking workshops with Corporates

Insight into Coaching

For some reason we have learned that Design Thinking workshops NEED to have warm ups. We accepted that and went with the flow. When I learned Design Thinking, it was not inside my work environment and nevertheless those weird games I HAD to do did not help me to be creative at all. It actually did the opposite: I felt self-concious and closed myself. No wonder why warm ups are a big pain for Corporate Design Thinking Coaches. Let’s face it, unless you are a coach working inside an organisation you don’t get how hard it is to do a warm up in there.

Your reputation is in jeopardy!

When you are a trainer, coach or consultant on hire, you leave after the workshop and c’est tout. But, when you are an insider your reputation, image and professionalism is in jeopardy. It sounds dramatic but sadly it is like that. When I started to work in Nestlé as an innovation coach, I learned right away to censor myself when it came to warm ups. They always left me with self-Fremdscham seeing participants feeling inhibited after the Danish Clapping Game (I still have trauma a with that warm up by the way). I realised certain warm ups became more of a mindset roadblock than enabler, keeping me from achieving what I wanted: make people try new ways of working!

Think of your colleagues

It is already hard enough for your colleagues to try a different way to do their work and accept you as a “teacher” so don’t push their limits. I’ve found out that in work environments people are reserved to show their full personality and personal aspects. So build trust slowly and work hard to create a safe environment (the how comes next).

Don’t push your colleagues’ limits making them do weird games. Design Thinking is already weird enough.

Ok what to do instead?

I decided to not put that extra pressure on myself and my colleagues and created a list of “Safe Warm ups for Corporates” that have worked for me and that you will find bellow. I also coined a series of best practices to benefit from warm ups avoiding the backfire:

If you are more of a listener here is a video from our YouTube channel, if you’d rather read, please scroll down 😀

Explain the WHY, always
Purpose is the base of experiential learning and corporates want to know why they need to do something. Otherwise they would consider it a waste of time. Explain what warm ups are for and why are they important when working with Design Thinking since they help to get into the right mindset for the exercises to come. Then introduce the warm up and explain what you’re trying to achieve with it. Do not reveal everything though, you want to do a reflection afterwards and shine when people point out what they learned despite their skepticism.
Do not force anyone. Period.
I encourage you to remember this phrase “Everything you do in this workshop is voluntary”. Yes we want to change mindsets and show people different ways of doing things but this won’t happen if people feel obliged to do something against their will.
Be a role model
If you want participants to do weird things, be the first one doing them.
Create a safe space
I’ve been hearing a lot about Psychological Safety as a key ingredient for this. It means creating an environment where there is no judgement and no fear of making mistakes. Being a role model here works wonders for this, be the first acknowledging to not know something for example, people would follow. Another way could be with warm ups that foster conversations about similar experiences so people can find commonalities among them.
Choose your warm ups wisely
Lower the barrier for people to engage, bear in mind it is hard to do new things in front of big group of people. Start with warm ups in pairs, maybe including writing or drawing. Do not make them play Ninjas as an opening activity!
The Safe List

I arranged the warm ups by the different stages of a Design Thinking workshop, you can find the explanations in our Coachbot. The what, why and how is in there. Which ones have worked for you? We’d love to feed our Coachbot with more warm ups 😀


+Get to know each other: Human Bingo, World map, Line Ups

+Team building: Post it portraits, Two truth one lie

+Research: Floor Plan, Human Bingo (to be added)

+Synthesis: Clusters

+Ideation: Circles

+Prototyping: Airplanes, Save an egg!

+Energyzer: Energy shot, Mirrors

+Closing: Love bombing

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