Listen More, Lose the Attitude

Part 4 of 4 in the series, The Anti-Handoff: A Better Design & Front-end Relationship

You’ve learned how to start a project off in the right direction—use your mad skillz to crush your design files and find some tips and tricks to finish strong on quality assurance. These are tangible and measurable ways to ensure a successful transition between phases. So what's left? None of these steps are going to go over very well unless you build an open forum for communication and establish mutual respect within your team. You’re in this together, so act like it.

Open Forum for Communication

A typical team consists of a group of people, each with a different background or a certain line of expertise. Everyone has a stake in the project—responsibility for the success or failure alike. Unfortunately, this can lead to territorial warfare, dismissing advice and suggestions from other team members based solely on the fact that you believe they are trying to do your job. I'm not suggesting that it's easy to get to a place where this never happens, but it should be the rare exception. When we shut our teammates down, we lose an invaluable ally in producing a quality product. Each team member’s diverse skillset creates a system of checks and balances that prevents us from going too far down that rabbit hole into our own ego. We can’t afford to lose a great idea because someone didn’t want to overstep their bounds. We need an open environment to voice our concerns, suggestions, critiques and praises.

A few ways to dive into the territory of collaborative communication is creating spaces where knowledge sharing has limited disruption and is easy to access. We’ve talked about this before, but Basecamp can be a great tool to document ideas and inspiration. Here we can create a dialogue that is easy to follow and project-specific to keep communication circled to specific team members. If we want to branch out into specific discipline teams with immediacy, we tend to use Hipchat. Within Hipchat, we create specific chat rooms for project teams, discipline teams, and an occasional nonsense room to share content with each other. If something comes across as important, specific to a project, we’ll share in the specified project room. If it’s more applicable to overall process/wide spread knowledge, we’ll post in discipline rooms. If it is completely irrelevant to our jobs, but an interesting tidbit, nonsense chat room it is. As important as it is to stay on task, it’s also important to find time for fun communication during the day that remains engaging yet not disruptive. Not only are we learning and teaching, but we’re building rapport with our colleagues.

Establish Mutual Respect and Empathy

Sometimes we get so trapped in our own bubble that we forget everyone around us is going through their own set of challenges. It’s easy to feel as though we’re the ones who are working the hardest and know the most. It’s a dangerous ivory tower to live in, isolating us from the safety net of our team members. Respect is a tricky thing. Varying personalities can either give respect easily or require a lot for it to be earned. Sometimes we’re placed on a team with people we may have never worked with before. How do we build that respect out of the gate?

Through empathy.

Being aware and sensitive to the needs of users is essential to our jobs as designers. Actually, it’s essential to all of our jobs as people who create products for other people. We study users, talk to stakeholders and actively try to understand how our work should impact how they use a product. We’re empathizing with users, trying to see the problem from their point of view. So, is it that hard to apply the same understanding to our coworkers? By extending the same logic, we’re allowing ourselves to gain an understanding of what kind of past experience they bring to the table, what their day-to-day tasks and struggles look like, and how that impacts their role and interaction with our project. Working on our empathy will only bring more harmony into those relationships and lay the foundation for gaining that respect.

Building a good process with clear structure can be the easiest step in modifying your workflow, but what makes it work is great communication and strong relationships. Your project is going to go a lot smoother—and you are going to get more out of it—if you can access these concepts to bolster your team.

I hope this series provided you with enough inspiration to improve your own process or at least start the conversation in doing so. We laid out an approach that is working well for us, but we’re always looking for new, better ways to work together. So, please get in touch, share your stories of struggle and triumph!


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