6 Ways to be a Great Team Player in Your Design Team

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Lydia Chamberlain
July 23, 2019

There is no dispute that every design team will function in its own organic way, with no team ever quite like another. Because of this, it’s important to maintain a strong bond with your fellow designers (after all, if you don’t have each other’s backs, who will?).

That may be tricky for you. Perhaps you have some ‘strong-minded’ individuals on the team. Other designers that may be brilliant innovators, but struggle to integrate with the others. Maybe, you’re that designer?

Even if things aren’t particularly difficult, there are always ways to improve what YOU’RE doing, regardless of the circumstances. After all, if you bring forth motivation to your team, who’s to say others won’t be moved by your actions!

So today in no particular order, I have 6 different guidelines/methods/tips to make the most of your title as “team member” in your design team. This is especially for the smaller teams that are more flexible to change, and have less of a hierarchy established – but any designer could find value in this methods!

Listen – but Also Speak Up!

Now, we’re going to start off with some common sense advice – but this can be a difficult hurdle to overcome for some junior designers or those that are conflict-averse.

Listening is a core skill that we absolutely need to hone as designers – in fact, it should be one of our most important traits. This is not only for our users, but our design peers as well.

Take heed of advice, criticisms, and comments from your fellow designers. But DON’T let your voice be drowned out!

There are times where my peers disregarded a certain workflow for a feature – but I had all the evidence in my hands proving that this workflow WORKED. In these moments, don’t be afraid to get your voice out there and be known! Otherwise, it’s very easy for something to get passed over due to the majority being more vocal.

Another example of this is when you’re critiquing the work of another designer. If you’re close (and especially if the designer seems really proud of their work) you may feel the need to bite your tongue and let it go. But by making them aware of your perspective, you’re only helping them think in another way.

Now, don’t be rash about it and blindly criticize your peers. Be as constructive as possible, with real reasoning behind your remarks.

There’s a time and place for all kinds of comments, and that skill is for a whole different conversation.

Schedule & Participate in Internal Design Workshops or Activities

If possible, take advantage of the design workshops, conferences, and courses in your city.

If you can get funded for these as a team, that’s ideal!

There are times where you may find your growth is stagnant – individually or together. When this happens, don’t forget that there are outside talents you can learn from.

If there is nothing in your city – turn to the internet! There are a PLETHORA of master courses taught by industry professionals in a number of categories.

Maybe your team doesn’t have enough funding to participate in outside content – that’s OK. It just means that you’ll have to generate your OWN means of practice, which is equally valuable.

If you can, brainstorm together some mini-workshops you can conduct within your own design space.

Some workshop ideas that our own team has tested:

  • Plan a 30-minute design presentation for team members OUTSIDE your design team. It can be on a product you’re working on, a summary of a completed project, or your team’s design process. Not only does this help you present your ideas, but it helps bring insight to other employees that may not have a clue what you’re up to.
  • Take 1 hour for a peer design session. Together, whiteboard design solutions for a particular problem one of your team is working on.
  • Internally, present a slide deck of some of your latest design findings.
  • On the side, do a design challenge with prompts you can find online. Or, even use the design prompt that your company may use for interviews.

Suggest Ways to Help Grow the Team

When your team is deep in design work and time is flying, you’ll find it very difficult to inject any new design processes into the system.

Sometimes you’ll be cursed with stubborn managers that have no interest in the design process.

If you have the time, be the change you wish to see. Raise to your team members some ideas to help your design team be even more organized/systematic/creative – whatever your problem may be.

My own team is challenged with this issue recently. It can be hard when each design team member may have their own process, challenges, and projects – so standardizing may be impossible.

Perhaps even bringing up the idea of workshops, master courses, or design presentations is the first step to making some change in your department.

Spend Extra Time With Your Teammates (1:1)

Your first thought might be – I already see these people every day!

I’m not asking you to take them to lunch or hang out at a cafe after hours. BUT one method is to schedule biweekly 1:1’s with your design team.

Whether it is 10 minutes or 1 hour – syncing up regularly keeps everyone on the same page. It also allows time to vent, brainstorm ideas, catch up about fun things; it depends on how your relationship is.

Our team has a 1:1 with our design manager biweekly for 1 hour. We’ve found that we’ve become closer, and created a safe space to talk about all things design, work, and life.

The worst thing you can do is let already tense relationships sour further. Even if you find your coworker particularly distasteful, you’ll at least have made the effort.

Since you have to work with these people, make the best of it! Maybe you’ll find that they’re holding things back that you didn’t even realize, or needed a spare ear to talk to.

Conduct Design Retrospectives

Now, this may be commonplace, but it is good practice. Even if you are a solo designer, I encourage you to follow this practice!

Every quarter, sit down and write down as much as you can in the following three categories:

  • What did we do well?
  • What do we need to improve on?
  • What notable things happened?

If you’re on a team, once you’ve finished writing go down the list one by one and let everyone speak to what they wrote.

Reflecting on the last couple of months helps you see your successes, failures, and opportunities to grow.

As a team, it also gives you a moment to acknowledge the hard work your peers have accomplished, and for yourself as well.

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