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Building High-Performance Teams in the 4-Day Work Week

The most effective steps you can take if you're building a high-performance design, marketing, or product team in a VUCA world.

  • Managing complexity in a changing world
  • Building the high-performance marketing and experience design teams
  • Understanding the talent you need

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Transcript: 

Building High-Performance Teams in the 4-Day Work Week

Welcome back to 40 front doors, our weekly digital marketing brand strategy and user experience podcast. This week, we're going to discuss the most effective steps you can take. If you're building a high performance design marketing or product team in order to do that, we're going to start off by just taking inventory on the current state of the world. So over the past five years brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. There's been an enormous amount of change and that change has impacted every aspect of our lives for today's discussion. We're going to talk about how that's impacted the ability to create a high performance design marketing, or product team, how to create the right kind of supportive culture, the roles that you'll need, the rules that you'll need to throw out and the new rules that you'll need to write an order to be successful.

The biggest change that we've experienced as it relates to the way we work together is the fundamental belief that great work has to happen in an office. We've been champions of this for many years, many years, going back as far as 20 12, 20 13, 20 14, we were building geographically distributed teams. And this was based on the idea that the best possible people were not always aligned with where your office was. The geography didn't always match up. Now, not everybody agreed with this. I mean, people said directly to me that this just couldn't be done, that you couldn't create culture in a distributed environment, or how would, you know, if people are actually working, if they're not in the office with you, I've had investors and mentors and advisor tell me that they just wanted to see people in seats. That that was the most important metric.

And I just scratched my head thinking, how could that be an important metric? Now, part of their part of their concern is rooted in truth. It can be enormously challenging to really create a thriving culture when you're all distributed. It can be enormously challenging to ensure that the quality of the work that you're creating is in line with your expectations and standards. And it can also be challenging to ensure that everybody's sailing in the same direction, but those are worthwhile challenges. And what we saw, especially with the emergence of the pandemic, not only was this possible, but it was the future.

We were looking into the future from 2014, preparing for an environment that was much different than any previous generation had ever experienced. And so much of this comes down to perceptions and how people feel about the environment in which they were. So let's close our eyes for a minute and think back to when we were kids. And if you were in a cold part of the country, it's a snow day. And if you're in the hot part of the country, it was an excessive heat. But either way, there were a couple of days, each year where there were school closures and we sat by the TV or the radio or your, her parents waiting for the email to come in, depending on when you were born.

And there was so much excitement, there was excitement as the TV scrolled up and you could see each school district or as the email comes in and you get the notice that school is canceled, just this overwhelming wave of excitement and joy in less your school wasn't chosen. And then it just felt like such disappointment, the greatest disappointment you've ever experienced, 11 year old you is wrapped. You don't have answers. You can't imagine how your school and your school only didn't make the prudent decision to close their doors and keep you safe. Well, that's how everybody feels about work right now, right? There are, there are work environments that just understand this.

And then there are work environments that just seem to be struggling with this new way to work. And then it comes down to a pretty simple Axiom, you know, the entire workforce figured out a new way to work. So why haven't you, why haven't you done that yet? And it raises some truly practical problems. You know, teams, aren't going to be thinking about solving client problems when they're trying to solve they're commuting and daycare and life problems. And the reality is that the pandemic simply exposed a truth. That the way that we've been conditioned to work is just fundamentally incompatible with modern life.

So we have to take that into consideration. We now live in a VUCA world, and if you're not familiar with the initialism, it stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. And it really captures the fact that, you know, it's the S it's the state of constant unpredictable change. That's now the norm in, in most of our lives, there have been some fairly seismic changes in the past few years, and the way that we build teams manage our lives, manage each other and manage outcomes has to be in line with that reality, not with a very static and slow moving reality as has dominated the corporate landscape and therefore, or a lot of our lifestyles over the past 50 years. So now we have to really, you know, take inventory and look at this and say, what's the reality today?

What are the expectations and how do we create commitment and engagement? It's funny because a lot of people will talk, you know, our employees happy right now, and happiness is not the best measure. You know, if you, if someone's sitting around watching Netflix all day and, you know, buying and shopping on Amazon, then they're likely happy, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're engaged and that's, that's critically important. We have to understand what's going to drive true engagement and get people excited about the work that they're doing, regardless of where they're doing it. And we have to adopt a posture.

That's less about oversight and micromanagement and more focused on independent goal achievement, and really being able to operate as an asynchronous team, communicating when necessary connecting when necessary. And that goes for digital interactions and physical interactions.

And here's what we're doing in order to achieve that. Let's break this down into what, who, and how beginning with the, what, there's a shift to a four day work week. We're leading that shift. We're taking the step in that direction. The four day work week is simply more compatible with people's lives. It's more compatible with reality, and it's better for your team. It gives people, especially in the intellectual economy or on the thought economy that are constantly coming up with ideas, solving problems, applying what they know to very specific challenges that requires compression and decompression compression happens Monday through Thursday. And that kind of pressure can create amazing results, but it also requires some slack, some flexibility in the system.

So we want to make sure that our people have time to refresh recommit and come back to the work inspired. Now, this might sound really obvious, but people need access to the right tools. The workplace has fundamentally changed, and now we need different tools in order to facilitate and foster collaboration. So having digital whiteboard tools, having access to the hardware that they're going to need, the software they're going to need. It creates a supportive and collaborative culture. And these are critically important facets when designing a high performance design marketing or product team, you can't expect people to do the work of collaboration in isolation.

And this is what will support a shift toward a four day workweek and a work from anywhere approach. But we have to go all in and for people that are responsible for designing these teams, these are the affordances. And these are the, the tools that we have to provide in order to remove the obstacles and facilitate great. Or we also need to focus on meetings that have actual meaning. There are, there are a lot of meetings on the schedule, and if anything, it feels that there are more meetings now than ever before. So we're particularly focused on which meetings are the most important. Now, whether you're you're building an in-house team or whether you're developing a high performance agency team, or whether you're a product team, you, you need to focus on events that people actually want to attend.

Weekly touch points, where we discuss financials, business development, wins losses. These are more important than ever. So if we kind of remove the memes and the tropes, and we look at which meetings are actually meaningful, these kinds of weekly touch points are more important than ever. This is another foundational pillar to building a high performance culture. We have to be able to communicate. We have to be able to adapt all of this comes back to that, that VUCA concept. So when we think about how we address volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, we start to create a blueprint for how we can support geographically distributed teams that are working on, on, on a single problem.

So you have to have an ability and a willingness to adapt to complexity, which means that sometimes we have to restructure teams and processes to mitigate complexity, not digging in to weather, the storm, which we've seen a lot of where it's almost an, an adverse reaction to change, just pure resistance. We're going to do it our way, and then things will change and they will return to the way that they were. They won't, it's just simply not going to happen. We also need to inherit this idea of experimentation experiment during periods of ambiguity, look at how you can generate your own hypotheses and test them to see what works and what doesn't. This is design thinking. In a nutshell, you want to begin designing the organization based on test and learn.

Then you also need to design flexibility and slack into everything from hiring strategies to establishing new policies and expectations around work, lastly, transparency. So this comes back to the meetings with meaning point transparency and information is important above all. So we have to build in new levels of information, sharing and communication to inform teams of changing needs or conditions. So, you know, case in point, we have a four day workweek ahead of us, and this is the new normal. What happens if we need to come together as a team and work on a Friday, just think about that for a moment. Imagine the difference between right now being asked, you know, we've got a big proposal coming up, or we have a client deliverable coming up.

Can you work on Saturday? Versus we have a big proposal or a client deliverable, can you work on Friday? Like fundamentally, that is just an easier pill to swallow. And we're confident that we can accomplish the work of five days and four, because we're going to be more energized and more connected and more committed. But if those changes occur, just because we have a new rule in place to adapt to this changing landscape, we still need to be able to communicate. And that communication shouldn't be last minute. And it shouldn't be bottom up. That kind of communication should absolutely be top down. You need connected leadership.

That's communicating with its team at every level, letting people know that in an experimental environment and a flexible environment, we need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. And that's just not going to happen without effective and consistent communication.

So that's the, what, here's the who and the, how the, who is a continuation of communication. So when we think about creating the perfect design marketing and strategy team, continuity of information above all else drives how we design our team and will absolutely transform how you design yours. In the context of today's conversation, we're trying to create a blueprint for creating these high performance teams. So we started off talking about the, what, what are the tools? What's the environment. What's the reality. Now, as we start to break down the who we really get into these four key roles that every design marketing strategy or product team needs to have, and these are the four roles that I've built my teams on over the past decade, first and foremost, this doesn't mean that it's only four people.

This can scale up to entire teams and departments, but the magic is that it can often scale down to just four people. So if you're thinking about running a lean team, these four roles are going to help you achieve your goals. First design research. These are individuals who, who just know how to frame questions, to reveal insights without bias. They can identify opportunities. They can reveal user needs. Customer needs, employee needs, patient needs, you name it. It, they are the people that connect the insights into the tangible written requirements, journey, maps, service blueprints. They create the fundamental understanding of the problem next.

And this role is an evolving role. This is something that we've seen significant change within just over the past 24 months. And this is the idea of a combined digital strategy and content strategy role. Now, if you recall, I was talking about continuity of information. We w we like to make sure that our teams are fully engaged, start to finish on every project. So a design researcher is engaged from day one through the projects and point same with digital strategy user experience, all of the different components. So when we think about digital strategy and content strategy, we really saw this as an opportunity to combine two roles into one, not for any kind of artificial efficiency, but for the continuity of information.

These are individuals that can connect those user needs to your offer. And we're also empowering this role to really be the UX architect, great digital strategists have an, I have an ability to transform existing or to interpret existing site behaviors into future state journeys. And they do that based off of data. It's incredibly important to be able to do that. We often see that user experience designers are, are, are limited by their access to the data. So you can change the name of the role. And if you have a user experience designer, who's functioning more like a digital strategist, then there's no reason to take a pedantic approach to this.

But we really see the, the capabilities that come with digital strategy and content strategy as really under utilized within this combined role, where they're creating the user experience architecture, then there's user experience and UI. And again, we're looking for places where we can create continuity of information. So the UX UI designer has really become critically important role to combine. And these of course, are the individuals who can translate high level UX direction coming from your design researcher and your digital strategist and content strategist role into tangible designs. Now, this is where the magic of this role comes comes together.

It's not just being able to translate that direction into tangible design. It's being able to translate that into tangible design that's guided by common design patterns. These are the people that are your connection to the real world of digital materials and user expectations. So, you know, everyone feels like they're a designer in, you know, in, in moments of critical review, the, the fundamental difference between everyone else and a UX designer is that they have such intimacy of material. They understand the design patterns that every one of your competitors or comparative brands are implementing in their digital experiences. And they have the ability to filter through those, determine which ones are appropriate for your applications, for your use and need, and ultimately to deliver the best possible user experience. It's, it's, it's nuanced, but it's so it's so important and often misunderstood.

And its true potential last and least known right now are low code engineers. So there are very few cases that remain where native code development roles are required, unless you're really a technology focused agency, a system integrator or a software driven product. But excluding those groups, marketing teams need low code engineers who can rapidly deploy robust functional web experiences, test new products and prototype advanced products. These four roles, design research, the combined digital strategists content strategist, the combined the UX UI designer and the low code engineer can consistently deliver outsized performance, meaning they are punching way above their weight.

These four roles when synchronized properly are the building block of every great high-performance design marketing or product team. As I had said earlier, you can scale those up. You can have two design researchers. You can have multiple strategists, you can have multiple UX designers. That's the who and the what the building blocks for creating a design team, a marketing team, or a product team that can operate in a changing world that can operate in the face of recession or pandemic or other unknown volatility. And these are core mission critical traits that you need to develop within your organization in order to remain ahead of the curve and innovate and develop and understand what your, what your users are looking for, what your customers are looking for these teams.

And these tools can be turned inward to improve the strategic direction of an organization to be truly innovative, not just inventive, but innovative finding ways to improve existing processes, to improve the employee, experience the customer experience, the delivery experience. And of course delivering the value for your end user or your customers.

Next week. We're going to talk about how you combine these four roles and how you orchestrate them with a new set of processes and methods to create these outsized outcomes, the roles and the tools. Aren't the only things that have changed the order of operations and the process has changed as well. I also want to hear from you, what challenges are you facing as you design your marketing and product teams? I'd love to hear what challenges you're facing in this volatile, uncertain, ambiguous, and complex environment in which we are all navigating. So let's get together next week and talk about process and how these teams work together to create measurable outcomes as always. Thanks for joining.

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