The work starts
After what seems like a very, very long time the big wheel of work is slowly starting to turn, and we’re shifting our attention away from foundational things like organisation, process, vision and beginning to focus on the work of teams and how they move.
With so many teams (around 25) involved, that move is starting to make visible some of the tensions and underlying beliefs within people and teams, and we’re seeing what happens as you move from theory to practice. The positive take is that we have a huge opportunity to play and explore different ways to help make teams work together happily, anticipating this was one of the reasons I established a Practice team within my part of the Product function. The intent for this small team is that they create a sort of connective tissue between those small, autonomous teams and provide a mechanism for us to identify, catalyse and amplify ways to make our practice as designers1 stronger.
Working together, but not together.
This week, the Practice team started looking into the challenge of team cohesion and shared understanding which is a bit of a hot topic right now. Some of the designers in teams are feeling that others in or close to their team are hanging on to behaviours that we’re seeking to change: product managers as mini-CEO, PMs shuttling work orders between design and build, big design up front, high fences between design and engineering etc. It’s not all the teams, but enough to give a signal that we’re still aligning around practices in some places.
That alignment is exacerbated by the global nature of our teams; we have teams made up of designers and product managers in London, Porto, Lisbon and Shanghai, engineering teams in Porto, Lisbon and Shanghai. We then have our Area leadership teams (Heads of Engineering, Product and Design Principals who are responsible for teams of teams) made up of people in often different cities. During the reorganisation of the teams we sought to make sure that we kept teams as located within cities where possible, but that wasn’t always possible: London, for example has no Engineers. So we have a situation where these things can and do happen:
- Teams where the engineers are in different cities to the designers and product managers
- An Area’s leadership team based almost entirely in one city, but with one of them in another
What we want is teams working together on the same problems at the same time, so the first configuration is a real challenge to that: we see designers huddling together and working through things and then presenting it to the engineers in the team, and then negotiating the terms of a hand off.
The second configuration is leading to the individual in the Area’s leadership team feeling out of the loop - not close enough to the teams, not close enough to their peers in the leadership team.
Experiments and play
The current idea is that by helping those teams feel more connected to the people they’re working with by finding ways to enable those light, passive and peripheral interactions which happen when you’re in the same physical space. We believe that by creating opportunities for ad-hoc, unplanned interactions we’ll increase team cohesion and deeper context awareness around the work.
We’ve spent some time talking to and looking at other teams that have a similar challenge around multidisciplinary teams around the world. Here’s a teaser of some of the ideas that we’re looking to play with in the next few weeks.
- You and your team alway have headphones on and you’re dialled into a conference throughout the day. Make it super easy for people to pick up on conversations, but also to make it as easy to ask someone something as it would be if they were on the desk over from you.
- You and your team open Skype/Zoom/whatever for video and just leave it running.
- Figma and RealTimeBoard instead of team walls, try and have as much of the team’s work happen in here as possible2
- The team create an agreement to only have discussion in a shared space - this came to us from another organisation, they said they needed to be incredibly diligent about policing this, calling out people who started a post-meeting side conversation for example. They said it was worthwhile though.
- Being more mindful about when to switch channels. Knowing when to stop it being a Slack chat and cutting over to a call. Text chat is great, but it’s fucking lousy at nuance, emotion or speed.
Initially. When we reorganised the way that Product was set up we looked at design, research, analytics, data science and product management (yeah — engineering wasn’t part of that reorg…) and the other directors grokked what a Practice team could do if its scope was wider than just design.↩
This one interests me a lot, as there’s things that digital spaces can do which physical spaces can’t and my instinct is that we’re not using them enough↩