Helpful Teamwork Tips for Your Design Team

Photo credit: Tosh Anand

For the past four months I have worked on five different team projects for my masters program for Human Computer Interaction Design. I have learned a lot about the benefits and challenges of working on a team with other passionate designers. Here are some helpful things I’ve learned along the way…

Agree on a line of team communication

Are you going to use Slack? Email? Basecamp? Trello? Texting? GroupMe? It’s important to begin a project with a clear understanding of how everyone will communicate on the team. Doing this upfront will help everyone stay on the same page and curb the “I didn’t see the message” syndrome.

Follow a set of team protocols

Team protocols help provide a stucture in which your team can operate in. Most of my design teams in graduate school chose to follow the McCarthy protocols in order to make quick decisions and stay on the same page. There are other team protocols out there. You can also make your own up. Discuss this during your first meeting and it will save you a lot of time down the road. Someone much wiser than me once said, “you don’t realize you need a set of team protocols until things go bad then you regret not having them.”

Check in and put other distractions away during team meetings

Make a commitment to your team to be present. In a world filled with distractions, especially at work, its harder than ever to be present for an hour. Make the effort. Turn off your phone, put away your laptop (or at least silent your notifications), and tune into the meeting. Audibly voicing that you are “checked-in” has a powerful effect. Try it.

“We” not “I”

It’s a team effort. Your vocabulary should reflect that reality. Get in the habit of answering questions with “we did this” instead of “I did this”. The sooner you lose your ego, the sooner your team will succeed together. It’s amazing what you can do on a team that truly shares in the success and failures. Make it about your team not yourself.

Document the decisions made as a team

Often times decisions are made and then rehashed and rehashed. Once you make a decision as a team write it down somewhere where everyone can see it. By documenting the decisions it also helps the team see the progress you’ve made and the journey you’ve taken to arrive at your current destination. This is also a simple way to ensure your team stays on the same page throughout the design process.

At the start of every team meeting take 5 minutes and quickly write down the decisions you’ve made together!

Listen more than you talk

It’s easy to talk but hard to truly listen. Often times I’ve found myself getting excited and talking over another teammate or interrupting them before they are finished. Not only is this rude but it ruins teamwork and discourages people from openly sharing ideas because of the fear that nobody will listen. When everyone wants to talk nobody is there to listen. Listen more than you talk.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” — James 1:19

Ask how everyone’s feeling

During a long meeting, take 5 minutes to ask how everyone is feeling. Get a sense where everyone is at. If things are going bad. End the meeting. Take a walk. Switch it up. It’s amazing how asking how everyone is doing can lead to productive conversations about where you are at in the project and get everyone back on the same page.

Plan the next meeting before you leave the room

Often once a meeting finishes everyone rushes out before the next meeting is able to be planned. If you’re sure your meeting again take 5 minutes to plan out the next time you want to meet. This will save you hours of back and forth later when you try to coordinate it with everyone’s schedule via email or group message.

Quick team postmortems

As a designer, it’s important to constantly reflect and iterate based on what you have learned. Take 5 minutes at the end of a meeting to reflect on what you and your teammates did well and what you could have done better. Iterate and do better next time.

My design team doing a postmortem at the end of a one month project

Get to know one another outside of your team meetings

There is the person you get to know at work and the real person after work. Get to know both sides. Go to lunch or dinner as a team. Take a short walk around the city and just talk. Once you understand your teammates more your teamwork will improve.

Be rigorously honest with one another

This isn’t an excuse to be an asshole. That’s not what rigorous honesty is about. It’s about being real with people and not holding back just because you’re afraid of an awkward conversation. Have it and then humble yourself when someone is honest with you back. Don’t take what they say personally. Weigh the words that have been spoken, reflect, and make changes accordingly. When your whole team begins to be honest with one another you will move faster towards a successful design.

Take time to celebrate

Too often, after a project is complete, we move on without celebrating what we’ve accomplished with our teammates. Take time to celebrate and look back on what you’ve done, even if it wasn’t a total success.

Thanks for reading!

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