Design Team Strategy #3
TL;DR: In this article, we explore the importance of team values in creating a cohesive and effective strategy for a design team. Team values are the guiding principles that shape a team’s culture and determine how its members interact with each other and stakeholders. Defining them is a collaborative process that in our case involved revisiting our stories of value, brainstorming our proposed team values, agreeing on a final set through an affinity diagram, and, finally, creating posters for each to make them salient and memorable. While design principles are important to a design team’s work, they are not the same as team values. Team values serve as a framework for making decisions, setting priorities, and guiding behavior.
This is the third in a series of articles dealing with the development of a comprehensive strategy for a design team:
- The strategy house: how to define a design team’s mission
- Pillars, objectives, and OGSMs: how to define a design team’s most important topics
- ☞ Team values: the foundation of any strategy
In the previous two articles of this series, we’ve had a look at the roof and pillars of the Strategy House model. Now comes the most fundamental part, the one without which a house won’t be able to stand for a long time: the foundation. In the case of the Strategy House, the foundation is the team’s values. In this article, we will explain what team values are, why they are important, and how we define ours.
Team values are the guiding principles that a team uses to make decisions, solve problems, and achieve its goals. They are the shared beliefs and attitudes that shape a team’s culture and determine how its members interact with each other and with stakeholders. O’Reilly and Chatman (1996) found that values are a key element in shaping organizational culture, and can influence behavior and decision-making among team members. In the context of design teams, team values may include things like a commitment to user-centered design, a willingness to experiment and iterate, and a passion for delivering high-quality products and experiences.
Team values are important for several reasons. First, they help to create a sense of shared purpose and identity among team members. When everyone is aligned around a common set of values, it becomes easier to work together towards a common goal. Second, team values can help to establish norms of behavior and expectations for how team members should interact with each other and with stakeholders. This can promote a positive team culture and prevent conflicts from arising. Moreover, team values can serve as a compass for decision-making, helping teams to navigate complex situations and make tough choices that are aligned with their goals and values; and they are one of the keys to overall organizational health (Lencioni*, 2012).
Creating team values is (or rather, must be) a collaborative process that involves the entire team. Here are the steps we have followed to determine our own team values within BestSecret’s Product Design team.
Step 1: Revisit the Stories of Value
We started by revisiting the stories of value that were created to develop our team mission. Even if team values have not been explicitly defined yet, they are always embedded into the work of a team already. Hence, from the stories of value, we extracted those already embedded team values.
Step 2: Brainstorm the Not-So-Obvious
Next, every team member on their own brainstormed values they felt were still missing and added them to the pile of post-its in a collaborative board (we used FigJam for this purpose).
Step 3: Clustering
Then, we started an affinity diagram where everyone — either alone or together with other team members — could cluster the values we brainstormed and propose names for those clusters over the next couple of days. After we felt the affinity diagram was complete, we met again with the whole team and agreed on a final name for each cluster. Those names would ultimately become the values for the foundation of our Strategy House.
Step 4: Create Value Posters
Once we had identified our team values, we wanted to make sure they were always visible and top of mind. We were heavily inspired by an article from InVision’s “Inside Design” blog (Ta, 2016) that recommended creating posters for each team value. Each team member could choose one or two values and create a poster to remind everyone of those values.
The posters are a great way to keep our team values front and center. Every day in the morning and after lunch break, a different poster is automatically posted to our team-internal Slack channel, reminding us why we’re here and what we’re doing. It’s a simple but effective way to keep our team aligned and focused.
While most of the brainstormed values were actual values, some rather fell in the category of “design principles.” Design principles are more specific guidelines that dictate how design work should be done. They are usually defined as a set of actionable statements that guide design decisions in a specific project. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, design principles are “fundamental pieces of advice for you to make easy-to-use, pleasurable designs” (Interaction Design Foundation, n.d.). For example, “consistency” can be a design principle that helps ensure a cohesive user experience, while “accessibility” can be a design principle that ensures that all users can access and use a product regardless of their abilities.
Design principles are important to a design team’s work, but they are not the same as team values. While design principles are more specific to the work itself, team values are the foundational beliefs and principles that guide a team’s work and behavior. Values are more abstract, but they provide a framework for making decisions and setting priorities, which is why they are critical to the success of any team. According to a post by Creative Market (2021), “Values are a statement of how we work[, p]rinciples are the attributes that are present in good design work.”
In conclusion, team values are the foundation of any successful design team’s strategy. They provide a framework for making decisions, setting priorities, and guiding behavior. Defining team values takes time and effort, but it is essential for creating a cohesive and effective team. Through revisiting our stories of value, brainstorming and clustering our team values, and creating dedicated posters for each, our team made our values more prominent and memorable. These values now serve as the foundation of our Strategy House.
Stay tuned for our next articles in this series, where we will describe how we further developed the design principles for our team.