Promoting collaboration in UX, design, and content teams

4 min read
Tara Malone
  •  Aug 15, 2018
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We all know how important collaboration is, but how many of us actually collaborate effectively with our teams?

Lauren Pope, a freelance content strategist based in Brighton, has extensive experience helping organizations improve their collaboration skills. In her recent InVision DesignTalks webinar Art and copy: bridging the gap between design and content, Lauren educated organizations on how to effectively promote collaboration across teams. Read on for our favorite takeaways from the event.

Identify challenges to collaboration

Though Lauren gets hired to solve content problems, she finds that more often than not, there’s an underlying collaboration problem with the team she’s working with. As she explains, “I still call myself a content strategist. The problems I get hired to solve look like content problems. But when you get down to it, the real problem almost always has something to do with collaboration.”

Related: Get over yourself—collaboration is the secret to great products

Lauren finds that collaboration and open communication tend to be categorized as “soft skills” and are often overlooked in organizations. However, these skills are essential, and when they are not cultivated, it negatively impacts the way UX, design, and content teams work together.

“Collaboration and open communication tend to be categorized as ‘soft skills’ and are often overlooked in organizations.”

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Instead of acknowledging the value of each person’s skills, each team tends to work in isolation, focusing only on their own specific skills. Lauren believes “there’s no reason it should be this way. We’re all designers, but we just bring different skills to the table.”

How can we promote collaboration between teams? Let’s look at an example from the world of advertising.

A lesson from advertising executive Bill Bernbach

Bill Bernbach was an advertising executive who pioneered a more collaborative approach between teams. Back in the 1960s, the design process was “a siloed process with no collaboration.” Copywriters wrote the copy and the art department designed the layout, with no communication between the two teams.

Bernbach wanted to improve the advertising process and had the revolutionary idea that “art and copy should sit in the same room.” He decided to put his approach to the test when designing the “Think Small” Volkswagen ad. He met with designer Helmut Krone and copywriter Julien Koenig and they worked together on the ad as a creative team. Their efforts paid off, and the ad was a huge success. This story demonstrates the value of a collaborative approach.

As Lauren pointed out, “We’re making the same mistakes today.” She’s had extensive experience working with organizations where the UX, content, and design teams worked in isolation. In some organizations the teams had virtually no interaction at all and were deeply distrustful of each other. Plus, they didn’t produce the most effective solutions for improving user experience.

If this sounds like your organization, there are steps you can take to encourage collaboration.

Develop a strategy for collaboration

In order to effectively promote collaboration in your organization, you’ve got to have a strategy.

Often, teams don’t have a coherent strategy or they have different ideas of what their strategy might be. According to Richard Rumelt, a good strategy has three parts:

  • A diagnosis: a shared understanding of the problem
  • A guiding policy: a shared approach for solving the problem
  • A coherent action: a detailed plan for how to implement that policy

In order to develop an effective strategy, all team members need to work on it together. An exercise that Lauren recommends is playing Strategy Mad Libs with your team. In this exercise, everyone is given a template and told to fill in the blanks. After each team member has done so, the team comes back together and looks for similarities and differences. From there they develop principles they can all agree on.

Encourage shared principles

An important component of an effective strategy is having shared principles, or a common understanding about how the team works. These principles can vary widely depending on the team, but at least some of them should be aimed towards helping team members feel secure and included.

For example, one of your principles might be, “Your work is as important as mine,” or “We give constructive feedback.”

To come up with your own shared principles, the entire team needs to get together to develop them. Arrange a meeting and ask everyone to write down their ideas of what successful collaboration means and what it looks like in action. The team should then discuss their ideas about successful collaboration and how to achieve it. From there, you should be able to develop set principles for your team.

Work together and maintain open communication

When done effectively, collaboration has many benefits, including greater efficiency, diverse perspectives and skill sets, and better design solutions. But it takes time and effort for teams to learn how to collaborate.

When the team comes together, it’s important to make sure they have a shared understanding of the problem they’re going to solve and what everyone’s role will be. Then everyone works independently on their assigned tasks for a set period of time before coming together again to share their work.

Lauren referred to this process as diverging and converging, and stated that it’s a crucial component of successful collaboration. Two ways you can approach diverging and converging are pairworking and critiques.

Pairworking occurs during a diverging stage and involves working in a pair or group of three to address a problem together. Ideally you’d have a designer, a UX person, and a content developer working on the same problem and bringing their own unique perspective to the table.

Critiques are part of the converging stage, and involve the team coming together in a room to share what they’ve been working on. During the discussion, it’s important for team members to look for common solutions and find ways to make them seamless.

“Real collaboration is a truly transformative experience.”

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Lauren’s final tip was to maintain open communication between team members. Talk to each other regularly and respectfully ask for clarification when needed. It’s far easier to answer questions along the way instead of trying to address them later in the process.

Collaboration is an extremely effective way to increase communication and trust between teams, and to develop creative solutions to problems. But what if your design team is unaware of or resistant to collaboration? Lauren advised taking action and speaking to your fellow designers about the benefits of collaboration. Listen to their concerns and try to explain the ways that collaboration can benefit your team and your company as a whole.

Real collaboration is a truly transformative experience, and one that you should try to promote in your company.

Watch the recording of Lauren’s DesignTalk

If you weren’t able to attend the event, no sweat—you can watch the recording here.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard