In the last post on meeting up, I mentioned subtly that I’ve become one of the design leads for our team. I honestly never thought I’d be leading anyone anywhere in a million years. There’s so much to think about and maybe discuss, all that stuff about line management versus mentorship and the dangers of attempting to do both.
But. As this is the sequel to the second post in a set of two I wanted to get some more stuff down about meeting up in person, but through the lens of trying to lead a small group of designers.
In timeline order this means the posts look like this:
As a small sub-group of the overall product team, we have a few regular remote sessions that we use to keep up to date, crit work and so on.
Importantly we’ve also instituted semi-regular “design days“ where we get together in person. These days are structured in a way that combines business with business-related-pleasure:
- in the morning a team exercise - a retro, healthcheck, crit, or similar
- in the afternoon an activity related to design, possibly linked to a current theme in our work
So far we’ve:
- done a retrospective of our ways of working, followed by a watch and a crit of Rams
- done a much more informal retro, then a visit to the Postal Museum to nerd out on postcodes.
- done a healthcheck, then onto In Plain Sight at the Wellcome Collection
- skipped the ceremony and went straight to see the Navigating the System exhibition at the UCL Urban Room
- skipped the ceremony again and went straight to see the COVID exhibition at the Science Museum (that was a weird one for us)
- done a dry run and crit of an upcoming whole-team ideation session, then got the Thames Clipper to the new hang at the National Portrait Gallery
Into the office…
We’ve toyed with the idea of doing the work portion in a different space like a WeWork or something, but so far we’ve always ended up in the Canary Wharf office (London is the local office for most of us, and the most desired meetup location for some of us).
During the lockdown(s), our existing office in Elephant and Castle was shuttered and the new one in Canary Wharf started up. I think this has accentuated feelings of strangeness. We’re not going back to a place we knew before and are comfortable with, we’re now visiting somewhere new and alien. I still can’t find the toilets or the kitchens, it’s somehow near impossible to book a room - all that sort of thing.
As weird as it often is, I still think it’s the “healthy” thing to do. We get to smile and nod at the odd person. It’s definitely got good views. Perhaps we will ever so gradually start feeling like this new office is our office.
…and then straight out again
What I personally think is far more important for us is to then get straight back out of the office and go do something else. There’s usually a link to our work, but I don’t think that should be a mandate.
We’re luckily small enough to be able to get lunch, do a thing, then get more grub and chat into the evening if we want to, without it being a huge logistical operation.
It’s good for us as a group to do activities that aren’t always just our day to day work. It helps us remain designers. Visting things and discussing them, finding interest and inspiration and sparking off each other.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the influence of Ben Terrett on this aspect of how I’m trying to “lead”. The GDS weekly design meeting was something I actively looked forward to, a combination of simply updating each other on what we’d been doing, guest speakers, little outings, all handled with a feeling of good humoured chaos.
I really want to attain a similar vibe in our little team. That feeling of being collegiate with some like minded souls. A spirit of friendship (or at least amiable tolerance) and shared interest. Not just delivering work, but a tight knit group of people.
I believe that being a tight team leads to better output. We’re more used to each other as people, more at ease with each other, and thus more open to constructive critiques, questions etc. We’re good at pairing or teaming up on a problem. The meetup days are an integral part of the oil keeping the machine ticking along smoothly.
I think these meetup days are precious, as they bring a special bit of the old pre-pandemic world back into the new. To be clear though, I don’t hanker at all for the old days in the office. At the moment I think we’re feeling our way towards a new balance. What we’ve got right now is an opportunity to explore what really works for each of us while remaining a solid and productive team.