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Creating the scaffolding for teams to do their best work

Poetics of space book cover, illustrated by Nick Misani, a series of line drawings of three dimensional shapes with different areas filled in with colour
Poetics of Space book cover, illustrated by Nick Misani
  • Creating the scaffolding for teams
  • Establishing the team’s baseline and defining roles
  • How to intentionally create space to share work and feedback

Setting up a new team remotely

As you may have guessed, I’m one of those people that started at a new company during the pandemic. Towards the end of 2020, I joined Snook to set up the digital practice.

Illustration of fish swimming to a central point

Creating a community

I’m very inspired by Jamer Hunt’s research around how problems shift depending on the scale (from an individual/ family/ community/ city/ nation/ to a global level) and how resilient communities are formed.

Building scaffolding at the ‘mesolevel’

The first step for me to develop the scaffolding was to listen to the system (the organisation), to understand all the actors, powers of influence, and the rules of the organisation.

Diagram showing the mesoscale — a midway between topdown and bottom-up approaches. From the book Not to Scale, by Jamer Hunt —
Diagram from Not to Scale, by Jamer Hunt

Just as there is risk in big bang releases in software development, the same is true in rolling out change within teams.

So where do you start without rushing things or not taking enough time to understand the system? Ella Fitzsimmons’ weeknotes about starting a new job at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation really resonated with me.

Establishing the team’s baseline and defining roles

A sreengrab of two spreadsheets showing a rubric of the Digital Team’s skills and the Software Development process
Screenshots of the digital team rubric. The development rubric was created with Toby Osbourn.
Image of the role and responsibilities of an accessibility specialist.
Accessibility specialist role and responsibilities
  • What the role is about: Accessibility specialists champion inclusive design and accessibility across everything Snook does, from the products we build to the services we offer. They work with the team throughout the design and development process, from research to writing accessibility acceptance criteria.
  • What questions they ask: How might we make the user experience more inclusive for a range of abilities? Does the product meet accessibility standards, such as WCAG acceptance criteria? Does this feature work using assistive technology?
  • What their responsibilities are: Supporting teams on how to implement WCAG 2.1standards (on both legacy software and greenfield projects), being the first port of call for the interaction designers to understand accessibility issues around their early designs.
  • Discipline
  • Experience and areas of expertise
  • Areas of interest
  • Topics that might be triggering

How to intentionally create space to share work and feedback

I’m a big fan of feedback and retrospection. I recently wrote about my personal process of adopting a reflective practice.

Making space for reflection is one thing, but how do you do that when everyone is on different teams moving at — what feels like — hyper speed? And more importantly, why does it matter?

Designing feedback loops is essential. It enables us to reinforce the things that work well and to call out the things that make it tough to do our best work.

Three techniques for team retrospection

1. Speed dating style feedback

This is a favourite tool of mine, that I learnt about years ago at ThoughtWorks. I forget who taught me it, but I’m forever grateful! The idea is that you do one to one feedback with everyone on your project team in a rapid manner, just as if you were rotating around a table at a speed-dating event. When you first try this, it can feel too quick and unnatural, but the goal is that everyone gets into the regular habit of giving and receiving feedback that is both constructive and actionable.

Diagram by Tom Wicks

2. Entire team feedback sessions

Miro board for running a team feedback session
Feedback board in Miro

3. Team office hours

Setting up team office hours was something new that I hadn’t done before. But I think this has been one of the most successful bits of scaffolding that we’ve created.

Matthew Trivett visually explaining how encryption works.

‘Office hours’, for us, is an inclusive space for people to share ideas and get feedback.

A space where it’s encouraged to “look at everyone as a mentor and opportunity to grow from” as Julie Zhuo points out in her book, Making of a Manager.

Keep on building…

The scaffolding isn’t anywhere near being finished, but the roses are starting to bud based on the foundation we’ve created. The hard work doesn’t stop here, we need to keep building and tending to the team as it grows. We need to continue learning and growing as a team before the latticework can disappear and allow for diverse possibilities to flourish.

Resources and further reading:



Since 2009 we’ve been helping organisations put effective change in place — designing products and services that make the world more human.

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Aly Blenkin

Writing about the intersection between design, technology, and impact.