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CERN BootCamp: a platform to innovate and work in diverse teams

Master students from Haaga-Helia, Laurea, Metropolia and the University of Helsinki met with students of a variety of international backgrounds at the CERN BootCamp in Geneva in June 2023. This provided an excellent opportunity to innovate by service design in highly diverse teams.


Sakariina Heikkanen

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 25.08.2023

The main goal of the CERN BootCamp was for the students to work in diverse teams to reach an innovation by using service design as a method. The teams had to face challenges and work under pressure, and yet stay creative to deliver innovative outputs.

As one of the participating teachers, my role was to facilitate and teach the service design method but also to coach the teams through the challenges of working as a team.

What to consider when working with teams of diversity?

Our students were to work in teams as diverse as possible to create innovativeness. Diversity meaning that the members’ experiences, skills, knowledge, cultural and academic backgrounds and professional networks are as varied as possible. This ultimately leads to generating fresh thinking (Paulus, Zee & Kenworthy 2016).

One very important aspect for innovativeness in a team is the feeling of psychological safety. Psychological safety is the belief of not being humiliated for speaking up with ideas, concerns or questions (Gallo 2023). Team members need to feel safe to express their opinions without a threat of being rejected or feeling embarrassed.

The challenge sometimes is to create a psychologically safe feeling in a diverse team. Evidence suggests that diversity may lead to discomfort (Phillips 2014). However, a team with members who think differently and expect their perspectives challenged by each other may be the most fertile ground for innovative results.

Through challenges and conflicts to understanding and innovation

At the CERN BootCamp we tackled the issue of psychological safety starting at the kick off orientation days prior to the actual camp. When the teams were formed we discussed with the students about the importance of feeling safe. The students were asked to list the codes of conduct for their teams.

Nearly all teams came up with similar thoughts and the code of conduct was easy to state.

  • Everyone is allowed to tell their ideas and concerns without feeling threatened
  • One should let the team member speak and wait for own turn
  • Help can be asked and offered anytime

During the Service Design practices, students had challenges and conflicts especially in the beginning of the BootCamp. It was noticeable that the more heterogeneous the team seemed to be, the more obvious were the conflicts in the beginning – to the extent that some members were considering changing teams.

However, most conflicts were tackled by talking and finding common ground and understanding. We, the teachers, acted as unbiased coaches listening and commenting, and thus, guiding the teams to find harmony. The teams worked hard on all aspects to the end and the presented service design results were astonishingly different and innovative.

Let’s not be afraid of differences and conflicts!

To conclude, here is the most important learning outcome of this experience for me.

Though we may feel more at ease working with people who share a similar background, we shouldn’t be misled by the comfort. Conflict arises from diversity and when team members challenge each other’s assumptions. It may feel uncomfortable because challenging someone or someone challenging you means leaving one’s comfort zone. The ultimate and common goal should always be, however, the mutual desire to come up with an ideal solution.

Evidently, as seen at the CERN BootCamp, many of us naturally want to avoid conflict, but if the conflict is tackled well, it can be an excellent ingredient in generating innovation.

The 3UAS CERN BootCamp is part of the project ATTRACT that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.


Gallo, A. 2023. Leadership and Managing People. What Is Psychological Safety? Harward Business Review.

Paulus, P. Zee, K. Kenworthy, J. 2016. Cultural Diversity and Team Creativity. The Palgrave Handbook of Creativity and Culture Research (pp.57-76)