“Why are we so busy but feel like we're not getting enough done?"

"How do we figure out what is the valuable work to focus on?"

"How do we get everyone pulling in the same direction WHILE nurturing ideas AND getting work delivered!?"

It sounds complicated, so let's break it down and make it simple.

You may have experienced it before. Ways of working, processes, culture and the quality of product often form organically, especially during the startup phase of growth. This fast approach to getting operations off the ground and product out the door is crucial to prove a product, especially on a tight budget. But how do these initial models scale in the long term?

It used to be enough to identify user problems and come up with solutions that solve those problems, but that's common place now. To produce the best products that gain traction, it's important to also design the way in which those solutions are produced.

At the core of this approach is the idea that the full potential of teams are unlocked when they are happy and productive.

To do this there are 3 things to focus on:
  1. The components of your organisation.
  2. The use of those components.
  3. The way those components are connected
Each should be in service to the other, like a healthy ecosystem. For a healthy ecosystem to operate effectively every component must have a value to some or all of the other components. In this way each can be seen as a tool for ongoing use.


Vision, mission & purpose
Great design can't happen in a vacuum. Work with the Senior management to show the value of spending time with the design function to discuss the organisation vision, mission and purpose statements. These are the engine of a company and the design direction. They should be used to guide all decisions to work efficiently, and deliver valuable outputs at all staff levels.

The company purpose is the reason to get out of bed in the morning. It's the reason to do what you do, and is a tool to help form the company vision. The vision is a description of the difference your company makes, and what it would look like in its most valuable state. This helps define the mission which is a high-level action statement including the benefits it will deliver.
Design strategy
A clear and well communicated design strategy helps teams understand the context of their work and highlights skills needed, giving opportunities for personal development. It helps teams focus on what is needed to progress the company mission with fewer distractions.

"If you chase two rabbits, you lose them both".

Culture and values

Psychological safety
Teams that feel comfortable challenging the status quo are the teams that innovate. Listen to your teams and trust in their skills. Valued teams are happy teams, and happy teams are productive teams.
A healthy work atmosphere will have a feeling of belonging, mutual trust and a sense of structure. Raising challenges brings value if there is psychological safety, but ultimately it is not conflict that drives dedicated people away, it is neglect.
Often, verbal only problem solving, like meetings, are simply unplanned workshops, usually led by whoever talks the loudest, with topics often circling back on themselves. Instead, consider consciously designed workshops with clarity of purpose and clear outcomes. These can be as short or as long as you need.
Find the values of your teams and individuals, and where they overlap with your company purpose, vision and mission.
Embracing change
Never look backwards at what has been invested, always consider what is best for now and the future, and pivot if necessary. One of the most dangerous phrases in business is "Because that's the way we've always done it"
A business or project runs simply by tackling a series of problems to solve, and nothing solves problems faster or to a higher quality than collaboration.


Happiness and productivity
Ask team members to rate themselves for happiness and productivity. Putting individuals in control of their own ratings helps them understand that this is a tool to reflect upon how they think they are doing, and to spark conversations relating to their goals. It is not a stick to use against them.
Clear responsibilities
Clear responsibilities help individuals deliver against all their tasks, and understand how they they can grow within the organisation. Confusion on this matter can lead to apathy, which takes time to resolve.
Canaries in the coal mine
Vocal team members who are not afraid of expressing their dislikes don’t need to be treated like trouble makers. Ask them to be sounding boards for early risk identification for subjects they are interested in. They will feel valued and the organisation will get different perspectives to take into account from those at the forefront of the work.

How to build a happy, productive design team

There are many articles and books out there that will give you great advice on leading and growing design teams. Some are theoretical, making the advice hard to put into action, others are very detailed but hard to refer to and use on a daily basis.
This article attempts to be short enough to read in one go and detailed enough to start building your own version that works for you.
These are the key areas we’ll cover:

• Measuring and coaching happiness and productivity
• Psychological safety
• Company-wide culture
• Default frameworks and expectations
• Leadership principles
• G.R.O.W. individuals
• Hiring...
Read full article on Medium
A screenshot of a Medium article headline  "How to build a happy, productive design team"