4 ways autonomous work drives creativity on Credit Suisse’s global design team

4 min read
Nick Lioudis,
Tim Newborn
  •  Jul 12, 2022
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The interconnection between autonomy and productivity is not lost on the design team at Credit Suisse. In a nod to their analytical roots, the team turned to data as they sought even better ways to work cross-functionally and across time zones: recent research by Rebecca Johannsen and Paul Zak indicated that even an increase of perceived autonomy can significantly improve individual and group productivity and “that this can have a salubrious impact on mood, but the neurologic mechanism through which this occurs remains to be identified.”

“Although we work for a bank, most of our designers come from agencies and non-banking backgrounds, and we’re a hybrid of different nationalities and cultures, so we need to work in a safe space that is conducive to creativity. Working autonomously and asynchronously has helped us find our sweet spot as designers in a bank,” says Amber Agresta, VP, Creative Director at Credit Suisse.

Here, design leaders at Credit Suisse share four key learnings on how building a culture of autonomous productivity — aided by collaborative technology — has supported their efforts to solve holistic problems across functions and geographies.

Reclaiming time to grow collaborative creativity

Design without sacrificing creativity. This is the common refrain for design teams across the world, yet putting it into practice can prove difficult. For Credit Suisse, a collaborative design function doesn’t have to trade one for the other but rather is built upon a keen understanding of the ways creative teams and their non-design counterparts work, with a focus on inclusivity.

“[Our focus on autonomy] allows team members to work more independently as not constantly surrounded with peers and hierarchy,” said Christophe Plan, Design Thinking Lead. “It forces one to make their own decisions and take ownership.”

Christophe added that this is also incumbent upon trust. Managers need to trust their teams to make the right calls in their absence, and ultimately, this reduces the amount of micro-managing they would do in a physical setting. “They don’t try to course-correct every time they hear someone say something that isn’t what they would have. It also maximizes the amount of time spent on deliverables and the value of meetings when they take place,” he said.

Spontaneity sparks creativity

The organized chaos that can overshadow the design process means being comfortable with being uncomfortable. But it also points to the obvious: design teams are just built differently. Scheduled syncs and stand-ups in isolation are likely not enough to spark creativity. Therefore, the aim is to address this challenge through a few small, yet impactful rituals:

  • Spontaneous check-ins. This creates a team spirit and bond although we hardly met in person, Christophe says.
  • Lots of impromptu brainstorming sessions. This aids working autonomously rather than emailing, and removes the fear that comes with asking for a teammate’s opinion before coming up with a solution, says Amber.
  • The team vision, communicated and on repeat. This ensures that distributed teams get the freedom to self-organize, own their decisions whilst all being headed in the same general direction, Christophe adds.

The clarity that comes with visibility

Transparency has also been a valuable lever for the design team at Credit Suisse. The ability to quickly share, comment, and iterate on projects keeps everyone on the same page and better yet, on track for better outcomes.

“Having visibility into the different prototypes other design teams are working on has been extremely helpful in ideation and avoiding duplication of work. We’re able to work out much more quickly if we’re designing something that has already been solved for,” Amber says. “We’re able to search through the library in our own time, and then start a dialogue with designers in different countries, in different teams, through the commenting features. This has really helped us break down silos within the bank and work more efficiently.”

Collaboration tools have also given colleagues the opportunity to tackle a lot of specific feedback without the need for dedicated sessions saves a lot of time, Chrisophe says.

“Trust is built in safe environments”

Inclusivity can be a powerful collaboration tool for organizations, which is why the team doesn’t take its value for granted throughout the design process.

“Trust is built in safe environments, and the ability to feel like their contributions matter and have equal standing with everyone in a team,” said L.A. Worrell, Design Thinking & Product Delivery leader at Credit Suisse.

It also gives people the space for making and owning their decisions means letting them make mistakes, Christophe notes. 

“(Teammates) eventually learn from their mistakes and grow in their practice and skills. This trust and space is largely a bi-product of working asynchronously: because we don’t get to have the facetime we used to, trust is the only way to keep one’s sanity and not fall into micromanaging people into insanity,” he added.

Autonomy can be a significant force of empowerment. What Credit Suisse’s design team has found, though, is that those moments where it makes sense to go beyond one’s capabilities can be the most fruitful and rewarding experiences in someone’s career. 

“It goes further than just the visual aesthetics. You are solving a problem and people are at the center of that problem. Embody the principles of design thinking and keep in focus the positive impact your work will have on your users and your organization as a whole,” said Amber.

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