- Hiring curious thinkers and onboarding with care can fuel internal creativity.
- Internal teams, freelancers, and outside speakers can bring fresh perspectives.
- Leaders can make space for inspiration and set goals for learning and innovation.
Listen: Bring in new perspectives to your design team.
You've read all the stats about employee engagement boosting productivity, reducing turnover, and literally generating higher profits. I have, too.
So it was no surprise that after talking to 100 design leaders at high-profile brands in our InsideOut community, I found the most frequently mentioned business challenge they wanted to discuss with peers was inspiring and engaging their teams. Every design team has deadlines and goals, and every good leader has a genuine desire to lead a happy, productive team to hit them.
I've now facilitated three roundtables on the topic of Bringing the Outside In, where groups of senior design leaders in San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago shared their insights on ways to fuel internal design teams with external trends.
Of all the amazing ideas I gathered from those amazing leaders on how to inspire teams, one bit of advice has sparked a lot of positive response and serves well as a way to package the design leader's role in employee engagement:
“Be an internal matchmaker, an anti-randomizer, and a part translator.”
What a fabulous way to look at the design leader's role in engagement!
Read on for advice from our InsideOut community on how to be the type of leader who sparks creativity and engagement for their team.
Be an internal matchmaker
As a leader, you have visibility and reach throughout your organization, that can help your team quickly gain access to the contacts and information they need to be successful. So become a matchmaker by building a strong team of individuals, then connecting them with the right resources. Here's how:
- Start with hiring. Prioritize curiosity in your hiring profile, and those thinkers you add to your team will constantly seek and bring new ideas—it's what they do.
- Onboard with care. Consider mapping your Employee Journey and closing any gaps that shut down engagement.
- Tap into internal teams. Customer insights and R&D teams gather trends all the time, so bring them in to share tools and learnings with your team.
- Bring in freelancers. These talented humans bring broad perspectives and fresh ideas, and they are often easier to engage than hiring permanent staff. (Shameless plug: Aquent Talent has amazing freelancers.)
- Let them shine. Give your team a chance to learn by training others (designers or non-designers), practicing on mock projects that stretch their creativity, and presenting their ideas and learnings to leadership.
Be an anti-randomizer
Though your design team may report to you, they are inevitably receiving direction and information from around the organization. That's why they need an advocate to quiet the noise, help with prioritization, and create opportunities for learning and growth. Think about how you could:
- Make space for inspiration. From Slack channels to dedicated time in team meetings to paid “go get inspired” time, leaders who value inspiration build inspired teams.
- Follow through with culture. When staff are encouraged by leaders and expected to learn and share on a consistent basis, they create a culture of learning.
- Bake in learning. Set clear goals for learning in professional development plans, e.g., attending two events or trainings (online or in-person) per quarter and bringing what they learn back to the team.
- Set goals around innovation. Want to get really serious? Bake idea generation into your OKRs. Not sure what OKRs are? Check out Measure What Matters by John Doerr.
Be part translator
The world of creative is constantly evolving, but often teams get so focused on getting work done that they fail to explore enough to keep up. By exposing your team to what's out there and embracing that evolution, you can ensure their development and boost your capabilities and capacity over time. For example, you can:
- Engage experts. Tap into your network to bring in outside speakers to share their experiences (leaders love to give back!). Partner with other internal teams to share the cost and effort of training.
- Get out of the screen. Take time to sketch ideas, connect with customers and other internal and external groups, and encourage non-screen activities that inspire.
- Get in the screen. Have teams bring in digital examples of designs, marketing, and concepts they see that appeal to them and discuss why they work.
- Look to the future. Expose your teams to future-focused technologies like AI, progressive web apps, and more (even if you can't use them yet on your current projects) to keep them up-to-date on emerging skills.
- Do more with less. Leverage vendors, affordable training platforms, customers, shared trainings with peers in your network, and free content to limit cost but fuel new ways of thinking. (Another shameless plug: our Aquent Gymnasium platform offers free online training for digital talent, including our new Take 5 microlearning content.)
Now it's your turn. We've only scratched the surface of great ways to solve this universal challenge for design leaders. Take some time to reflect on which strategies you could apply to your organization.
If you're a senior design, experience, or operations leader of an in-house team and want to connect with others who share your unique challenges, let's talk. Our InsideOut community hosts roundtables to support the learning and growth of our members, and I'm honored to facilitate those discussions.
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