A successful team dynamic is an intricately delicate balance to hone. And that interplay is usually dictated from up top by the leadership.
Some groups can function with input from one individual. However those groups tend to be error-prone since there aren’t any differing opinions to show necessary and varied perspectives.
Other groups can be on the opposite end of the spectrum and work more as a motley group of individual minds working at different rhythms. And those teams can serendipitously churn out a coherent piece of work, but more often, they produce a juxtaposition of odds and ends.
What I realized and saw first hand is that there is another possible leadership arrangement. Namely, one in which different members cycle through the leadership role — depending on the need, skillset and situation.
For a group project at General Assembly (GA), I worked with a team of three other User Experience (UX) Designers to create a phone application geared towards creating a positive experience for outdoor enthusiasts. The application, SUMMIT, worked by generating personalized packing lists for users, based off of weather conditions.
Within just a few hours of meeting as a team, we slowly developed the criteria of an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. Working towards an MVP states that putting forth solely the necessary items to move the product along the next steps to development is all that is required. Working towards the bare minimum is practical because the MVP will go through multiple iterations of edits and revisions. This inherently will refine the product into the desired end result.
However, for us, this concept of utilizing the MVP was born out of necessity since we had less than 2 weeks, or just one design cycle, or sprint, to produce our deliverables. And these documents were to be later presented to a developer.
Other items outside of the MVP, like more detailed UX design artifacts such as journey maps, fell under the purview of Next Steps — or items that would be produced during the next iterative cycle.
At first, our group facilitator delegated roles equitably, with input from team members based on individual strengths and areas for growth. This process ensured high quality results because more often than not, a skilled teammate would work with a group member with more to learn on certain tasks. Team SUMMIT looked like it could scale mountains.
However, there are many ways that a team’s unified mission can be tested. One way is through an unforeseen injury to a team member. A week and a half into our team’s existence, one group mate got injured and was unable to fully partake in team activities. She was sidelined with a broken ankle and remotely communicated with us via webcam.
There were many ways to react to the hardship we faced as a team. One way was to adapt to the change, while maintaining the team’s initial vision of an MVP, by working smarter and harder.
Another, and unproductive way, was to unwisely take on too much of the work load and toil harder for unnecessary reasons. And unfortunately, our team manager temporarily lost sight of our team’s goal of producing the set, promised deliverables.
She was lost in the realm of ‘Next Steps’ — laboring for close to an hour on background colors for screens, or details that would be addressed in the future, in the Next Steps section of our work.
The beauty of a team design sprint, is akin to an Olympic relay race. As soon as one leg is done, the baton is seamlessly passed onto the next teammate. In UX design, as soon as the working prototype is complete, it is passed on to the next teammate who analyzes the document and uses it to inform him of his own task. Timely and faultless transitions are crucial in both scenarios.
Therefore, it was of the utmost importance to redirect our wayward manager. It was one thing to have the privilege of leisurely deciding on different shades and hues of the color green, but it was a whole other matter when the project was due the following morning and the screens were needed by other team members to go forward with other analysis.
Now, I have held positions of leadership before in the past, whether it was as a captain of my high school varsity golf team, or as a lead intern during a summer position. But my modus operandi has usually been to lead by example and to be more reserved with my words.
However, during our group’s meeting, I quickly recognized that my approach of speaking sparsely had no place in that context.
I directly told our teammate that we all needed to realign ourselves back to the goal of creating an MVP for our developer. During situations when time is a waning resource, we cannot afford to spend chunks of hours and minutes on items that would be addressed for a future design cycle. I also relayed to her the notion that by stagnating the flow of work, the design process stalls and leaves other team members with little to do in the mean time.
Although I was very forthcoming with her, I made sure to frame it as a team problem — which it was. Team SUMMIT would all fall down or all rise up to the occasion.
So in that instance, I took the leadership role and did my best to snap my teammate out of the funk. And thankfully, after speaking with her, she came to realize the impact of her actions on the team. She simply needed some insight from another perspective and I was there to provide it at an opportune time.
I did not perform a heroic David vs. Goliath deed nor lead a group up Kilimanjaro. However, I did enough to right a wayward wrong. And in the context of Team SUMMIT, that was all that was needed.