Whatever we’re working on, our process starts and ends with deep collaboration – with clients, end users and colleagues. Effective working relationships are essential to the success of the digital solutions we deliver, helping to secure our place as the #2 Digital Elite Agency in UK.
However, working with people from different disciplines, with different expertise, perspectives and goals brings with it a host of challenges, from getting clarity on requirements, aligning on design, and delivering under time pressure. Getting all of this right depends on having great communication and working practices that connects the team across cultural and geographic divides.
Here are 10 ways we ensure we work well together with our colleagues, client teams and stakeholders:
- Assign clear roles & responsibilities
- Embrace the battle of ideas
- Be persuasive with evidence
- Be empathetic
- Hold face-to-face briefings
- Be a problem-finder as well as a problem-solver
- Hold regular, timely & structured meetings
- Grow and share your knowledge
- Use shared nomenclature
- Have some fun
1. Assign clear roles & responsibilities
Working in a team of experts is a privilege, however, difficulties can often arise with having too many decision makers with different points of view. But never fear, you can help minimise any conflict and endless debates by clearly defining peoples’ roles and responsibilities.
By using a tool like the RACI matrix everyone in your team will know who is Responsible for the tasks (‘the doer’… i.e. the designer), and who should be Consulted (i.e. the BA, the SME’s, brand governance), so that all the points of views are taken into account. They’ll be clear that the final decision is made by the senior decision-maker (i.e. the Product Owner), who is Accountable. Clarity of responsibility will improve efficiency, productivity and morale, by creating a clear route to decisions that resolve conflicts of opinion.
2. Embrace the battle of ideas
It may seem like a contradiction to my previous point – but having different viewpoints and conflicting opinions is a good thing. At RMA we deliberately employ people who are willing to challenge the status quo to deliver the best imaginable digital experience. To successfully challenge colleagues or clients you need to stop the debate from becoming personal and present the problem alongside possible solutions and any supporting evidence. But remember the team’s roles and responsibilities – use those as a vehicle for getting to a clear final decision.
3. Be persuasive with evidence
Challenging clients can play an important part in finding the best digital solution for the business and users. You want your client to succeed, so if you think they’re making the wrong decision, you should provide evidence to persuade them to steer their decision, and ensure that you do not harm your relationship. The evidence you show will depend on the project and the character of the individual. It can range from market research, usage analytics data, competitor’s designs, usability data or videos of users during lab sessions – which is often the most persuasive of all.
4. Be empathetic
I’m not talking about empathy in the sense of compassion or sympathy, but in the sense of putting yourself in your colleague or client’s shoes. Empathy at work is positively correlated with growth, productivity, and earnings; and for good reason.
“Empathy should be embedded into the entire organization: There is nothing soft about it.
It is a hard skill that should be required from the board-room to the shop floor.”
Belinda Parmar, Harvard Business Review.
It is important that you consider your colleagues’ different goals, challenges and skill sets. Designers and developers are often very different types of people, with different ideas, challenges and ways of communicating. Respect each other.
5. Hold face-to-face briefings
At RMA we live and breathe digital, but nothing beats face-to-face communication. We find that the most successful briefs we receive (and give) combine a written brief or requirement, with a face-to-face verbal session to talk it through, discuss questions and issues. Getting things down on paper, helps make sure they are thought through, but its often only when you get to talk informally that you get the full story.
6. Be a problem-finder as well as a problem-solver
We like to think of ourselves as champion problem solvers. To effectively solve problems and design solutions, it is important to be part of the process to discover the users’ problems. A list of requirements from the business may focus on the business needs rather than the users, so you should also act as problem-finders and work with the business to help layer in the users’ perspectives and problems into the requirements.
7. Hold regular, timely & structured meetings
Meetings are often the curse of the workplace and a barrier to productivity. It’s important to include regular and timely meetings with the right people, in your plan. Before the design of a solution is complete, for example, you need to get the whole team together to raise issues and benefit from the knowledge and ideas across the group.
To ensure that all the attendees in the meeting get their voices heard we use Gamestorming tools to facilitate our workshops with our clients and our colleagues. By using levelling workshop techniques, (such as first writing ideas down on post it notes, before discussing them) you can stop people from dominating the meeting. Even if you don’t have an official facilitator running a meeting or workshop – you need a person who is able to open the conversation to everyone.
8. Grow and share your knowledge
Every individual has limitations to their knowledge and works within the constraints of what they think is possible. You can combat this problem by learning skills outside or your core discipline. Designers, for example can work on writing good copy or dabble in code so that their designs consider the limitations that come with both content and technology.
If you are worried about spreading yourself too thin, make sure you consult with your expert colleagues or partners to get their input on an area outside of your comfort zone early in the process. Talented developers make the seemingly impossible happen. If they are creatively engaged they can open up designers eyes to new technical possibilities.
9. Use Shared Nomenclature
For an industry that intends to make things clearer, we do love a good buzzword and have a tendency to use lots of acronyms. Using plain language should start when you communicate. It’s important that everyone is clear what we mean when we use terms, especially as peoples’ mental models can often differ.
10. Have some fun
“All work and no play…” Spending Friday afternoons in the pub with clients or your colleagues is a thing of the past. However, there is a lot to be said for spending time with your colleagues in an informal and relaxed setting to create a sense of joint responsibility and drive. It is worth investing your time and effort into bonding a multi-disciplined team, whether this is through social activities, such as sport or lunch out, or entering and winning team awards.