How To Build a Great Web Design Team

Solving jigsaw puzzleBuilding The A Team: The Top Attributes of a Great Web Team

The other day I found myself sitting with my workmates over morning tea and I thought to myself that we’re pretty lucky to have a strong team of clever and creative people that get along with each other. Some other teams might not be so lucky and so I got to thinking about what key characteristics make for a valuable in-house web design team. What makes some web design teams better than others? We all know that the best web design teams are based on a strong creative and strategic foundation. But on top of the creativity there needs to be an understanding of a greater, common goal. Good teams have a strong understanding of their client’s needs and the ability to transform good concepts into reality.

I guess for us at Activate Design, constructing our solid web design team is based on how we identify talent in an individual and whether or not they can fit in with our style. With so many new graduates eager for a job, how do you identify who is worth considering?

The number one thing I consider is what I’m looking for. But in terms of tangible requirements, I look at the following:

  1. Portfolio: For me, a web designer’s portfolio should not only look great but it should be informative. I want to know exactly the role the person played in the project. I want to see a high level of creativity but a diverse level of skill is also paramount.
  1. Blog: So many people underestimate the power of the blog to showcase their work. When a designer has a blog that is frequently updated, this shows me that they’re passionate about their craft so much so that they’re willing to spend unpaid time writing about it. A blog is also an excellent way to view a person’s communication skills.
  1. Presence: I look for someone who has done a bit of high profile work, who has perhaps published articles, or has even written books. These are all good signs of a talented and dedicated professional, but they’re not the most important aspect. This kind of work shows me that this person is driven and ambitious which are traits that I admire.

After someone has passed these first tests, I need to figure out whether they’re going to be a good fit in our already established team.  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to determine whether or not someone is going to fit in your team on the first or second meeting. Often, you can only get a full read on these things until you actually work together, but there are some things to consider in your first few conversations.

  1. Professionalism. This is simply mindboggling. Some people have shown up late for meetings or have failed to turn up at all. Calls go missed and unreturned or cell phones go off during the interview. You’d be surprised how far a little bit of professionalism can take you when you’re looking for a job.
  1. Eager to Learn. I take notes of the questions the web designer asks me during an interview. If they don’t have any questions at all, this raises a red flag for me. When someone asks me how we do things it shows me that they want to understand and collaborate. It shows me that they want to learn, too. I like someone with confidence but when you come in pretending to know everything about web design, it just makes me cringe.
  1. Logistics. I tend to ask future collaborators about their working hours and availability. I’m very open to working with people from all over the world, but I’m aware of time zone restrictions. We’ll look at “Fluid Teams” a little later on.

Eyes Wide Open

At Activate Design, we’ve established a strong team with a clear vision and core values. Doing so establishes a high-performing in-house team with a focus. It also gives any internal and external team contributors good insight into how we manage our team. Developing this particular characteristic takes much more work than just writing down a statement and some bullet points. This kind of dedication takes focused planning and collaboration from all members of the team so don’t expect to have a clear vision for your team overnight.

We believe there should be a team leader that sets the vision and core values and helps to implement them in the work space. This leader must also train and mentor team members whose poor performance could possibly affect the overall health of the entire team. The best place to start is by developing a keen understanding of your agency’s purpose and strategic business goals. The vision and values you develop should be something that everyone on your team contributes to so that each individual feels like they are a part of the decision, instead of just following along.

Talent Quest

In order to create the best team you’ve got to hire talented contributors with defined roles and accountabilities. We know that finding people who are creative, versatile, passionate and strategic is like looking for the Holy Grail sometimes. We find that the best people possess an entrepreneurial spirit where they own their role and they hold themselves accountable for the work they produce. Acquiring top talent can be tough and even the best firms make mistakes hiring people who look great on paper but are terrible in a team environment. All I can advise you to do is careful research on your candidates and be honest about the level of work you expect and the level of quality you expect the person to maintain, before you hire them.

It’s not Lip Service but…

It is vital that you communicate each member’s value. Create an environment where each member of your team feels like they’re included and that their opinions matter to the business. Not only will this breed shared trust, passion and loyalty, but you’re more likely to hold onto valuable team members by showing them some appreciation. Implementing performance appraisals is a great way to offer constructive feedback and to receive some yourself!

Talk to Me

I’d say that no matter how much talent a web designer has, if they don’t have the ability to communicate, that talent is worth much to me. Every in-house team is going to encounter speed bumps that require individual contributors to work together in working past them. With creative people, there will be times when your team face major roadblocks, but knowing how to effectively communicate through these issues will help make your team stronger.

These bumps and blocks are simply little miscommunications and conflicts that occur within corporate environments and creative groups the world over. It’s completely natural to experience them. Some conflicts can be good! Trust me! Good conflicts are resolutions from bad conflicts that help grow a team and get them thinking in new, innovative ways.

A lot of communication within a team is either unheard or misinterpreted. These types of miscommunications arise when people don’t have clearly defined roles, so we recommend instilling a soft hierarchy within your team so people know where they stand.

Water, Water, Everywhere…

As I mentioned before, with the globalisation of business, more and more design firms are turning to Fluid Teams. Basically, fluid teams are groups of experts that reshuffle regularly. These groups assemble and disintegrate with ease, and the individuals involved can either be in the same country or dispersed across the globe. These teams are also known as ‘distributed teams’ which are teams that don’t share a physical workspace.

Whether or not you have a Fluid Team or an in-house team, all of the factors I’ve described above apply to both. We believe that the best thing you can do to create the best team for your business is to assign the right people to the right role. This is what’s known as the “One Thing Concept”. You want to be able to get to your team members’ core competencies. Most designers see themselves as good at a variety of jobs; it’s true, to be a good designer you must be a bit of a Jack of All Trades. But you need to find the one thing that they excel at. The one task that they kick ass at. Once you determine the magic power of every single member of your team you’ll have a greater idea of what you can accomplish.

Do As I Say and As I Do

I think the ultimate way to design the best web design team you’re after is to lead by example. If your team members or employees see you working hard and putting all of your effort into your projects, they’re going to the same. When people are surrounded by others who are dedicated and passionate they tend to subscribe to the same mentality. So give it your all and your team will too!

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