Stop, collaborate & listen: Reaping benefits from your departmental teams

June 19th, 2017

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By: Raduan Kalaf, User Experience Architect 

It’s important to get a conversation going among your team to understand what everyone is working on, what tricks they have for getting through the day, and what initiatives they are taking up. When you create a workplace where team members are regularly sharing their knowledge, it lets everyone benefit from each other’s unique perspectives, improving your office culture and output. An employee in a departmental team that meets regularly to discuss new trends, showcase work to be proud of, or ask for feedback on current projects, feeds into an idea of validation and cognitive harmony—ultimately leading to longer retention and loyalty within an organization.

While this isn’t a groundbreaking idea, it’s often considered a “nice-to-have” rather than a strategic initiative that ladders up to employee satisfaction. To persuade your team of the benefits may be tricky (this article can help!), but implementation is very simple. Within our UX team at Beyond, we’ve been experimenting with weekly hour huddles where we share our work and discuss a few chapters of UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want by Jaime Levy to complement our real-world experience. All it takes is booking some time with your team with a short but clear agenda. Here are a few of the ways these weekly huddles have already made a big difference in our culture and our work output.

Learn from your peers

The old expression is “there are many ways to skin a cat.” Disgusting, but true. In the digital space, there are hundreds of different ways of approaching a problem, whether it be using different coding languages, a new Sketch plugin, or writing something slightly differently. Ideating every possible solution is practically impossible—but that’s what your department is for. Even if your department members are younger and less experienced, they may have tackled the problem before, or just have a unique perspective. It’s also a chance to show your peers a new way of addressing a problem that they may have never considered. In my experience, I’ve learned more about working efficiently and successfully from the processes and intricacies of finding these solutions than from the actual work itself. Your peers’ knowledge is valuable, use it.

Test out new ideas with peers

It’s easy to get excited about new ideas. It’s also really easy to tear apart new ideas that may seem to infiltrate a team, especially when they’re half-baked. Let’s say you have an idea for a new process within your product team, and you think it can really help increase communication between developers in other offices. If you take it directly to your team, you might risk presenting the idea incorrectly, reinventing the wheel, or not understanding the full picture. Members of your department could have been in your exact same shoes before, and they may have templates to get you through your idea.They might know the best way to present the idea to developers so they understand it’s a decrease in frustration in the long run, even if it’s a bit more work at the beginning. In addition to your peers’ knowledge, their experience is just as valuable, leverage it.

Encourage your peers

To some, asking for feedback might feel like an act of weakness or laziness. Others think that showing off their work of their own accord is bragging or showboating. Few think that their work isn’t particularly exciting, and deserves to be kept away from anyone else. Having a welcoming environment—where feedback is encouraged and sharing work is on the agenda—makes it easier for these types of people to open up and share their knowledge. Start the conversation that enables those feel-good moments that come from showing off work to people who actually understand the process and rigor that it required.

Practice giving and receiving feedback

Within your own product team, it’s often difficult to give or receive feedback because those people are in different roles, and might not be able to articulate their points using the same terminology. Admittedly, there are times that I get so engrossed in my work that I don’t respond to constructive criticism in the most congenial of ways—but practice does make perfect, and a meeting with peers is the perfect space to work on it. On the flipside, giving feedback (positive or constructive) on the types of work you’re well-versed in allows you to be more critical in your own work and offer advice that’s helpful, not damaging. Getting feedback from people who are just as knowledgeable in your field can provide equally meaningful benefits, such as a unique but relatable perspective and professional validation about your work. It’s really a win-win-win-win.

Practice presenting

Even if you aren’t sharing documents or products internally, but do have to present them to clients, it’s always great to have several practice rounds of presenting your work under your belt. Even the most seemingly perfect work can have typos, grammatical errors, or could just be tightened even a little bit more. You can also prepare yourself for questions that might require a more eloquent response during the client presentation. Back when I was a scared intern, these internal meetings did wonders for my self-confidence and grounded my presentation skills in front of clients. Just because you’ve successfully “winged it” a couple of times doesn’t make you an exception.
At any given time, you represent your department and the knowledge they possess. No matter what role you’re in, everyone’s experiences are valuable and deserve to be reflected on with those of their teammates. Our calendars might feel like they are overstuffed with really important items, but these meetings don’t have to happen every week. Find whatever meeting time is convenient for your organization’s workload and communication, but work something out—because you can’t understate how beneficial it is to your whole team when you stay informed of each other’s work.