Collaboration: The Essential Ingredient of a Successful Web Design Team

Written by Wholegrain Team - June 27, 2016

With the modern day obsession over titles and career paths, it’s easy to fall into a trap of focusing solely on your contribution to a project, determined to see your name in lights for the benefit of your CV (and your ego).

But this is a recipe for disaster.

If individuals – by this I mean individual people or separate teams on a project, such as design and development teams – focus only on their own input, that project will be extremely vulnerable to failure. Because without effective collaboration and communication, your team is just a group of people doing their own thing. They’re probably highly intelligent people who are extremely capable in their field, but if they don’t collaborate effectively with others on the project, things can begin to unravel and fall apart pretty quickly.

Because design is a team sport. And the principle at the heart of all great designs is collaboration.

Teams that collaborate listen to each other and to their clients, and by doing so are more likely to produce products that function well, perform reliably, and appeal to their users.

So how can you promote collaboration in your design team? Here are some tips to keep you on track.

1. Ensure you’re all playing by the same rules

People work in a variety of different ways, but if left to their own devices to make up the rules as they go along, the result could create chaos and instability. Because it’s difficult to be truly productive when you’re arguing over the basics.

But when everybody is playing the same game and following the same set of rules, things flow much easier.

To ensure your design team is ticking over smoothly, have a loose set of agreements in place to provide structural support for all members of your team and ensure you maintain specific roles throughout the project. Allow your team members autonomy for performing their roles and managing their day-to-day tasks – you don’t want to stifle their creativity – but make it clear what each team is working on, what needs to be done by your next meeting, and what you expect from each other.

2. Do your homework together and do it thoroughly

When building a product, it’s essential to start with an understanding of your target audience. What are the needs, motivations and behaviours of your potential users?

All too often this stage is left to the design team alone, but you could be missing a trick. Anybody with acute observational skills and the ability to imagine the needs and motivations of others can play a vital role here. In fact, by involving both the design and development teams you will benefit from seeing a project from their unique perspectives. Like this, your project will be built on a solid foundation of shared experience and a joint understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve.

3. Communicate any constraints clearly and quickly

Design and development teams have different areas of expertise, so it’s only natural that they don’t always know any potential constraints involved when they have a light-bulb moment.

As a professional and a team player, it’s your job to communicate any constraints as soon as you see them. Do it concisely but ensure you explain your reasons thoroughly – there’s little more frustrating or demoralising than simply being told ‘no’ without an explanation. By communicating any potential issues promptly, you can work together to find a solution and reframe the challenge to match your strengths.

Remember too, that your discovery phrase will only expose so many constraints; the rest will appear along the way. To keep them to a minimum and to avoid unnecessary friction, don’t feel pressured to add features late in the project without taking the time to review them technically first.

4. Don’t be too quick to say no

A great idea in its infancy might not seem so great at first, before the innovator has had chance to develop that idea to clarity or completeness. But instead of jumping in with a negative reaction, try to suspend your judgement. Just because that idea isn’t perfectly formed doesn’t mean it has no value.

You’re aiming for a safe working space, where all members have the opportunity to put forth their ideas – something that communicates their ideas are welcome and worthwhile. Doing otherwise – cutting down an idea because it comes from a different perspective to your own – places limitations on your sources of inspiration and puts up barriers between teams.

Shooting down ideas will quickly kill off any momentum in a team. Instead of saying no, think how you could develop that idea. In addition to giving an idea the space to develop and mature, you will also be sowing the seeds of trust within your team – which is great for future projects.

On the flip side, be open to receiving feedback too. Sometimes ideas are a non-starter, so listening to the feedback of others is equally important.

5. Keep an eye on the bigger picture

Every member involved in a project is there for a reason; they’re all creators of some kind and each brings something different to the table. So whichever team you belong to, don’t get so caught up in your own role that you lose sight of the bigger picture.

Regularly meet to review your progress and check that you’re on track to meet the agreed deadlines. Maintain the same level of feedback and don’t be afraid to admit if you don’t have the answer for something. Everybody will appreciate your honesty and sometimes a fresh perspective can help to solve a problem.

You may have a number of superheroes in your design team already, but if you want to develop a reputation for producing great design, encouraging an atmosphere of collaboration and communication, and establishing a certain level of process and guidelines is the way forward.

How do you foster a spirit of collaboration in your design team and what sort of guidelines do you put in place to allow it to flourish? Tell us below.