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Designing functional design teams


Authors: Ashley Karr
Posted: Tue, January 19, 2016 - 4:10:30

My Top Three Takeaways from Years of Researching and Designing Functional Teams:

  1. Dysfunction in a design is a direct reflection of dysfunction in a team and or organization.
  2. People should come before protocol, because when protocol comes before people, dysfunction occurs. 
  3. When people have control and power over their workplace and how they work, functional teams have space to grow and thrive of their own accord.


Functional Team Plan Brainstorm by Hatim Dossaji, Jill Morgan, and
Mary Pouleson

Introduction

For the past several years, I have been trying to find the answer to the question “How can a functional design team be created and maintained?” I have come to the conclusion that a completely functional design team is not possible, because it seems that “function” is circular rather than linear. A completely functional team would be Spock-like and thus becomes dysfunctional. However, we can minimize dysfunction and create enough function that we put out decent work, get along with our teams well enough, and at least somewhat enjoy our careers. 

The rest of this article will explain how I came to this conclusion and what I do with my teams to make them as functional as humanly possible. Please note as you read this that there is huge room for improvement in my methods and opinions, and any insights that readers have are much appreciated. Please add them to the comments section below or get in touch with me directly. Thank you in advance.

Resources

Current data and resources regarding designing functional design teams are sparse. What data and resources do exist are not very applicable and or actionable for design professionals. Most resources that I found came from management- and business-driven studies and resources and were predicated upon the concept of squeezing as much productivity from employees as possible to turn greater profits. As a design professional and as a humanist, I am more interested in creating team environments where people thrive and put out great work. I believe profits are side effects of compassion and quality, and so I make them my priority and bottom line—not money.

The following is a list of useful data and resources that I found and use on a regular basis:

  • The website 16personalities.com
  • The book Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, and Ron McMillan and the associated website vitalsmarts.com
  • The book Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
  • The website basadur.com
  • The website liberatingstructures.com
  • The book Discussing Design by Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor
  • The book Designing Together by Dan Brown

Conclusions

I have drawn two overarching conclusions from these resources. In order to create functional teams: 

  1. Team members should have control over their fate in the workplace.
  2. Team members should be empowered to create and generate work, collaborate, relate, interact, socialize, and handle conflict on their own terms.

This reminds me of the famous quote by General George S. Patton: “Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” It seems that if design professionals are empowered to have control over how they work and how they interact with their team members, things will be more functional than if they are disempowered and told exactly how to do things and how to interact with their team members by another party. 

When I first began managing teams, I tried to solve every conflict amongst my team members. As I matured as a manager, I told my team members that they were adult professionals and they should be able to handle conflict on their own. As a result, there was less conflict all around. (I do have a caveat that if they cannot resolve the conflict on their own and they have to come to me, they waive their rights, and I get to decide their fate.) 

The Functional Team Plan

Recently, I created something I call the Functional Team Plan. I liken it to a project plan that takes into account emotional intelligence. It helps teams set their emotional tone, sculpt their culture, and form their communication and conflict resolution styles. My teams must draw it up at the same time they draw up their project plan and turn both in before our first formal design evaluation, during which we go over both of these documents. The Functional Team Plan includes the following:

Section 1: Individual Style

  • Each team member’s style of stress response (see Crucial Conversations)
  • Each team member’s personality type and how this affects how they are in the workplace (see 16personalities.com)
  • Each team member’s creative problem solving style (see Basadur)

Section 2: Identify, Define, and Describe (IDD)

  • Dysfunctional teams
  • Functional teams
  • How to move from dysfunctional teams to functional teams
  • How to create and maintain functional teams

Section 3: Plan

  • Communication plan
  • Decision-making plan
  • Conflict resolution plan

Once I created this loose structure for my teams, I found that they were able to handle conflicts on their own and in more respectful ways so that their projects developed at a good clip and their relationships with their teammates deepened. I believe the reason why this happened is because we removed the taboos and stigmas regarding talking about and dealing with conflict. We accept the fact that working on teams can be hard and conflict is bound to happen when people interact with each other on a regular basis. We make the hard things part of the conversation from the inception of a project. This right here is the gem—the heart of a functional team.

I will wrap up this article with my outline for the activity I take my teams through to create their Functional Team Plan. If anyone reading this article decides to run this workshop and the Functional Team Plan, please contact me. I am happy to give any help I can, and I would like to know how it works out for you.

Developing the Functional Team Plan Workshop 

  1. Overview (Total workshop time 2.5 - 3 hours)
    1. Step 0 - Take the 16personalities.com test, complete your Basadur profile, and complete your stress assessment from Crucial Conversations before this activity begins
    2. Step 1 - IDD Dysfunctional Teams
    3. Step 2 - IDD Functional Teams
    4. Step 3 - IDD How to Move from Dysfunctional to Functional Teams
    5. Step 4 - IDD How to Create and Maintain Functional Teams
    6. Step 5 - Discuss Step 0 results
    7. Step 6 - Create your communication, decision making, and conflict resolution plans
    8. Step 7 - Submit your Functional Team Plan
  2. Step 1: IDD Dysfunctional Teams (10 minutes)
    1. Diverge - 5 minutes
      1. identify, define and describe dysfunctional teams on post-its
      2. you can use words, phrases, examples, stories
    2. Converge - 5 minutes
      1. create an affinity diagram and find emergent themes
      2. ii.capture these themes to help you create your Functional Team Plan
  3. Step 2: IDD Functional Teams (10 minutes)
    1. Diverge - 5 minutes
      1. identify, define and describe functional teams on post-its
      2. you can use words, phrases, examples, stories
    2. Converge - 5 minutes
      1. create an affinity diagram and find emergent themes
      2. capture these themes to help you create your Functional Team Plan
  4. Step 3: IDD Dysfunctional > Functional Teams (10 minutes)
    1. Diverge - 5 minutes
      1. identify, define and describe how to move from a dysfunctional team to a functional team on post-its
      2. you can use words, phrases, examples, stories
    2. Converge - 5 minutes
      1. create an affinity diagram and find emergent themes
      2. capture these themes to help you create your Functional Team Plan
  5. Step 4: Creating and Maintaining Functional Teams (10 minutes)
    1. Diverge - 5 minutes
      1. identify, define and describe how to create and maintain a functional team on post-its
      2. you can use words, phrases, examples, stories
    2. Converge - 5 minutes
      1. create an affinity diagram and find emergent themes
      2. capture these themes to help you create your Functional Team Plan
  6. Step 5 - Discuss Step 0 Results (30 minutes)
    1. Each team member explains their results from 16personalities, Basadur, and Crucial Conversations stress assessments so team members can understand their personality type, problem solving approach, and how they react to stress.
  7. Step 6 - Create Communication, Decision Making, and Conflict Resolution Plans (30 minutes)
    1. Team members agree and put in writing how they will communicate with one another, how they will make decisions, and how they will resolve conflict.
  8. Step 7 - Submit Your Functional Team Plan (30 Minutes)
    1. Teams will write out their team plan and submit to their manager. (The plans are usually 2 pages in length.)

Posted in: on Tue, January 19, 2016 - 4:10:30

Ashley Karr

Ashley is a UX instructor with GA and runs a UX consulting firm, ashleykarr.com.
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