How to increase your team’s productivity when stakes are high

4 min read
Kacy Boone
  •  Mar 23, 2021
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The speed at which the global healthcare industry moves is under a microscope these days. For almost a year now, you’ve gotten daily (sometimes hourly) updates on COVID-19 case volumes, breakthroughs in treatment, and vaccine rollouts. You’ve educated yourself on mRNA and spike proteins—spending hours researching the ins and outs of a virus that has changed our lives.

But perhaps, you’ve missed an important story behind these scientific advancements: Healthcare innovators are not only enacting meaningful change and quickly, but they’re doing it in one of the toughest environments. Companies like GSK, a science-led global healthcare company, have been undergoing digital transformations long before the onset of the global pandemic, but they were disrupted just like many other organizations by the overnight switch to remote work. Changing the way people work can take years. But, when the environment around us is changing at a rapid pace, we need to find ways to accelerate and adapt. While many companies had a bit more flexibility in their journeys, the stakes were higher for those in healthcare: Any slowing down equated to direct impact on the health of their customers. The situation demanded near perfection.

And yet, led by Rachel Burton, the director of transformation, and Alex Voorhees, the director of design on the Core Technology Design team, the GSK team rose to the occasion. Like many of us, the hardest part of enacting change was simply getting started. But Burton and Voorhees decided to approach their path forward just like they would any project: with human-centered design thinking principles. Rather than solely focus the team on objectives and hitting certain metrics, they chose to firmly ground their day-to-day journey in their people.

“In order to get to where we need to be, it all starts with the people at their desks,” Voorhees says.

As you enter your final social distancing stretch and feel the draining effects of a long disrupted life, look to the lessons of these groundbreakers to add some momentum to your day-to-day:

Remind yourself what a bias towards action feels like

Burton and Voorhees had been working on ways to demonstrate what it means to have a bias towards action—a way of working that needs to be felt rather than talked about. What better way to do that then through a design sprint? Voorhees took the Google 5-Day Design Sprint template and modified it to accommodate the team’s needs.

Marah Faron, one of the participants at the design sprint, shared, “There was intimacy and speed at the same time, which allowed us to feel what it means to be agile and bypassed the slow-moving tendencies of a larger company.”

While setting aside several days to facilitate a workshop can feel daunting, there’s something irreplaceable about feeling what it’s like to move fast as a group. Word of the sprint caught on, with more and more teams requesting to participate and adopt this new style of collaboration.

If you’re working on a project solo, you can create a “sprint” for yourself (and maybe a few others) to generate a small win and kickstart your momentum.


Try a new tool

Entering 2020, Voorhees and Burton knew they wanted to roll out a series of hands-on experiences as part of their skills transformation initiative. So much of what is “hands on” had previously been crafted as in-person experiences. Stay at home orders made this impossible, confronting the team with a new unforeseen challenge: how can you create transformative experiences while everyone is remote?

Voorhees found a solution in Freehand, InVision’s online digital whiteboard. Freehand allowed the team to accommodate team members from across the globe in a way that still felt engaging and productive.

“The sprint leveled the playing field. Freehand facilitated a digital space to brainstorm ideas where everyone had a voice. Even with no design experience, the tool was easy enough that there was no learning curve whatsoever.” shared Faron.

You can add spark to your everyday analog tasks by trying them out a new way. Try grabbing one or two colleagues (or team members) to create bonding while also remaining productive.

Create psychological safety

In order to be productive (while also in a high stakes situation), you need to take the pressure off yourself a bit. Creating an environment where everyone feels like they can take risks and be creative without the pressure for perfection is a critical aspect of fostering breakthroughs. Said simply, if you’re wanting to promote change, you and your team needs to be open to it.

One way to create psychological safety is by choosing tools and platforms that feel approachable no matter an individual’s background. Faron recounts her feelings during the design sprint process, “When I heard that there would be sketching involved, I freaked out. I’m a data scientist and developer and I was nervous about drawing things using a trackpad. Using Freehand, I could use shortcuts to create clean shapes and not worry because they looked great.”

Burton, who also participated in the design sprint reflected, “It created a great learning moment, because everyone is on the edge of their seat and it’s highly visible. I enjoyed seeing the richness of ideas and was blown away by the creativity.”

Voorhees agrees, “Be resilient and continue to try and experiment with an open mind. With this sprint, we tried for a long time to make something happen and we didn’t give up on it.”

Know that the result of your design sprint won’t be a fully-baked solution, but you’ll be surprised by how much you can create and how far you can take something when you create the space and environment to move quickly.

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