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The A-Team: How to build a UX team with strengths-based leadership


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UX teams are comprised of people with unique strengths that enable them to approach design and user experience challenges from multiple perspectives. Surprisingly, however, these unique traits often go ignored under the assumption that all leaders look and perform the same. Leading a UX team or project using these strengths not only helps designers and researchers contribute more effectively, but also empowers them to take the lead on work that is personally meaningful and satisfying. This session will help UX team managers and individual contributors understand the value of strengths, identify strengths within themselves, and use these strengths to become effective and passionate leaders.

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The A-Team: How to build a UX team with strengths-based leadership

  1. 1. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 STRENGTHS BASED UX LEADERSHIP NIKA SMITH AULD (@INFOSMITHING) JULIE SCHILLER (@UXJULIE) FACEBOOK UX RESEARCH (julie) We are user experience researchers who have been in the industry for a combined total of 30 years. We have worked as researchers within all kinds of industries and organizations - from small consulting shops to monolithic auto manufacturers to agile startups. (julie) Through our time in these roles, we have learned a thing or two about leadership. When we both joined FB around the same time, we came together and realized we’re both really passionate about this topic. We put together this presentation to share some of what we have learned about being an effective leader in UX, in the hopes that it can help you advance your career. (NIKA NEXT)
  2. 2. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 YOUR CAREER A JUNGLE GYM NOT A LADDER (nika) A lot of us probably attend this conference and other UXPA events because we want to explore and grow our careers and become leaders in the industry. We’re here to network and find out how others got their dream jobs, or how they made impact in organizations that were new to user experience. (nika) Back when I first explored the world of user experience and usability consulting, the industry was still relatively new and a lot of us haphazardly ended up forging our own ways. Now that the industry has matured, it’s time to start talking about what leadership looks like for people in this career track. (nika) As said by Sheryl Sandberg…”Your career is a jungle gym, not a ladder.” The best way to grow your career isn’t just to climb straight up. You will have more opportunity for growth and impact if you explore in all directions. Identifying and guiding you career based on your own leadership potential is a great way to begin that exploration. (JULIE NEXT)
  3. 3. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 LEADERSHIP IS… ➤ A trait, not a job title ➤ Not the same as management or task delegation ➤ It resides at any level, role, team, or company ➤ The key to building success… in our careers, in our teams, in our products especially (julie) First of all, we want to clear up what exactly we are talking about when we talk about leadership. When you google search for examples of leaders, you are likely to see a lot of results for executives or politicians - people with a lot of clout, power, and resources. But these aren’t the only types of people out there who exhibit leadership. So what is leadership? 1. It’s a trait, not a job title. It’s something you exhibit no matter what your job title says. Even a junior level designer or researcher can be a leader. 2. When we talk about leadership, we aren’t thinking about it in terms of managing or delegating tasks. Leaders do often become managers, and managers do lead teams, but leadership is a trait that anybody can have, even if you don’t “own” a team or product space. 3. It is not limited to executives who sit in board rooms and make big decisions about things like “company vision”. Not limited to sexy tech companies and startups who are trying to disrupt a particular industry. Independent consultants, medium sized agencies, and old-school corporations can all embody leadership in what they do. 4. Leadership is a core component of success. It is very hard to progress your career, or grow a team, or ship an awesome product without leadership. It’s important. If you take anything away from this presentation it’s this. Don’t ignore leadership opportunities, or save it for a later stage of your trajectory. (NIKA NEXT)
  4. 4. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 LEADERS AREN’T LONERS Leaders are people whose work helps others… ➤ Identify opportunities ➤ Solve difficult problems ➤ Rally around an important cause ➤ Influence organizations ➤ Explore uncharted territory ➤ Focus on what’s right instead of what’s easy (nika) Something important I have learned is that leaders aren’t loners. They don’t exist in a vacuum. To be a leader implies that you have followers and that the work you do is in the spirit of helping others, whether it be a colleague, a team, a company, or an entire industry. For example, a leader’s contributions may help their team… 1. Become more capable of identifying the opportunities in front of them 2. Feel empowered and ready to solve difficult problems that were previously too big of a challenge to take on 3. Rally around an important cause that was previously unknown or not well understood 4. Explore unchartered territory with confidence and excitement 5. Focus on the right thing to do rather than the easiest, cheapest, or fastest option.
  5. 5. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 SUPER POWERS OF LEADERS Inspire and influence Motivate Remove barriers Empower Impact (nika) It’s also important to note that successful leaders act with good intentions and positivity. 1. One way they do this is through inspiration and influence. For example, leaders influence by inspiring people to believe in a vision. 2. Next, leaders motivate people to go after that vision. They build excitement around the cause, a feeling of urgency and desire for doing things the best way possible. 3. Leaders enable people to follow through by helping to remove barriers and clear the way. They don’t just point out problems. 4. Leaders empower their followers to make the vision a reality. They make sure the tools or information needed is available, they identify resources and people that can help, and they dig in and get their own hands dirty alongside everyone else. 5. Leaders focus on solutions that will have impact on the people and problems that matter the most.
  6. 6. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 LEADERS SAY: “HERE'S WHERE I'M GOING. COME WITH ME BECAUSE IT'S GOING TO BE AMAZING.” (nika) Leaders don’t just tell their colleagues “this is what we’re going to do and you have no choice to but to come along” (JULIE NEXT)
  7. 7. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 WHY ME? WHY UX LEADERSHIP? (julie) Okay, so now you know what a leader is, but maybe you’re starting to wonder why UX people specifically should care about this.
  8. 8. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 WHY ME? WHY UX LEADERSHIP? Leaders are people whose work helps others… ➤ Identify opportunities ➤ Solve difficult problems ➤ Rally around an important cause ➤ Explore uncharted territory ➤ Focus on what’s right instead of what’s easy (julie)Let’s jump back to that list of traits of a leader that we talked about earlier
  9. 9. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 WHY ME? WHY UX LEADERSHIP? Leaders are people whose work helps others… ➤ Identify opportunities ➤ Solve difficult problems ➤ Rally around an important cause ➤ Explore uncharted territory ➤ Focus on what’s right instead of what’s easy THESE ARE THINGS UX RESEARCHERS AND DESIGNERS DO EVERY DAY! (julie) Amazingly, all of these traits are things that researchers and designers do every single day! We are natural born leaders, whether we are new to the industry or as seasoned as Jakob Nielsen
  10. 10. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 LEADERSHIP ELEVATES UX TEAMS Leadership can help UX teams: ➤ Have impact ➤ Be taken seriously ➤ Have a voice at the table ➤ Fight for the users (julie) Another reason why we, as UX professionals, should encourage leadership is that it only serves to elevate our teams. In many organizations, UX teams don’t inherently have the autonomy and seniority as other teams. This is often the case in older software development companies where UX is a relatively new addition. In these companies, you often hear UX teams wonder how they can have more impact, how they can get leadership or engineering to take them seriously, how they can have a voice in deciding product strategy or company vision, or how to even just fight for users’ needs. Leadership helps with all of these. Leadership can help UX teams 1. Have impact in their organization and in the company as a whole 2. Be taken seriously and shown as important parts of the decision-making process 3. Have an equally important voice at the table, rather than existing in service to sales or engineering 4. Fight for what’s right for our users, not just what will impact the financial bottom line (NIKA NEXT)
  11. 11. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 I WANT TO BE A LEADER! 
 …NOW WHAT? (nika) Okay, so now you know what a leader is, and maybe you’re starting to become convinced that you, too, can be a leader. How do you do that? There are a lot of self-help books out there about leadership. It can be pretty overwhelming. We have found that a great starting point is to think about your own strengths as a way to identify your leadership potential.
  12. 12. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 Malala Yousafzai Fearlessness Jon Stewart Bringing order to chaos Martin Luther King Jr. Fairness and justice (nika) A great way to start is to think about people you admire in the world and think about what they stand for, and what strengths they have that make them effective leaders in this cause. (Nika) I took a poll of my friends and colleagues to see who they think of as leaders. I got a really interesting and diverse set, of which this is a small sliver. Each of these people may seem like they have little in common - activists, celebrities, executives. But that’s exactly the point - there is no one way to be a leader. These admired leaders are people who have used their strengths to fight for their causes, and they were successful because they didn’t try to be someone else or follow a script. Malala - Malala’s strength is fearlessness and persistence. She fought for girls’ right to education even after being shot and repeatedly threatened with death by the forces she fought against. Jon Stewart - takes complex problems and distills them down to the core issue, and rallies a cause around it MLK jr fought for fairness and justice among the African American community, serving as a voice for people who had been brutally treated and ignored. The key here is the diversity in strengths these leaders have. They lead in their own ways, not following a set formula or the same set of strengths. Who do you think of as a leader? What are their strengths? (JULIE NEXT)
  13. 13. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 SET OF STRENGTHS ➤ communication ➤ problem solving ➤ bringing order to chaos ➤ seeing the big picture ➤ bringing people/resources together ➤ taking charge ➤ fearlessness ➤ fairness/justice (julie) So what are your strengths? There’s a lot of different strengths out there, here’s a short list of a few. We have seen these in our careers of 30ish years in the field, these are leaders we’ve respected. It’s important to remember that: 1. This list isn’t comprehensive. It’s just a set we have seen in the UX industry 2. You don’t have all of them. In fact, there will be some strengths that you do not have at all. It’s great to identify these because they are areas for growth. 3. Strengths are fundamental to your personality, regardless of what your job is or what task is at hand.
  14. 14. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 FIND YOUR FLOW Flow is completely focused motivation in which you experience… ➤ Intense focus ➤ Timeless concentration ➤ Energizing action ➤ Intrinsic reward (julie) But how can you determine what is a strength of yours vs something you do professionally or were trained to do? Psychology can help us understand this by identifying situations where you’ve felt Flow. Flow is an immersive experience where you almost lose your sense of time. The task at hand is completely consuming and also enjoyable. You’re able to focus completely and not be distracted by other concerns. Four factors as encompassing an experience of flow. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding Reference: In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields (and has an especially big recognition in occupational therapy), though has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions.[1] Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as being in the zone. According to Csikszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.
  15. 15. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 WHY FLOW? ➤ Your strengths create and fuel these moments of flow ➤ By looking for where flow occurs, you can trace it back to the underlying strengths (julie)
  16. 16. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 FIND YOUR FLOW ➤ What do people turn to you or rely on you for? ➤ What are activities you do in which you are so immersed that the time just seems to fly by? ➤ What are you most excited to do each day? ➤ What do you volunteer to do that others seem to avoid? ➤ What kind of activities make you feel proud of your involvement? (julie) Here’s a journaling activity you can do by yourself to begin to identify your own strengths. Try answering these for both time you spend at work AND outside of work. Take a minute and think about the answers to these questions. We’d like to have 1-2 people share their answers with the group just to get everyone comfortable with this process. Thank you for sharing these experiences, we hope everyone will take time to think more about this. Its a very personal answer. (NIKA NEXT)
  17. 17. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 MAP FLOW TO STRENGTHS ➤ communication ➤ problem solving ➤ bringing order to chaos ➤ seeing the big picture ➤ bringing people/resources together ➤ taking charge ➤ fearlessness ➤ fairness/justice (nika) Now, look at each of your answers to these questions. For each one, think about how it maps to one or more of these strengths. Here’s an example. When I think about the activities I do where the time flies by, they are things like - taking a horribly wordy Word doc and wordsmithing it to make it easy to understand and tell a story - sitting in front of a huge pile of research logs, making sticky notes of every interesting point, and grouping them into related categories - writing a list of a million things I need to get done after my house flooded, and orgazing them by priority, ease of completion, and impact. 
 I like to take charge and bring order to chaos. This is a really important skill to have on a fast paced team, and not everyone wants to do it. Fearlessness Review list of strengths to understand what powered those moments of flow <INCLUDE A HANDOUT>
  18. 18. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 BUILD STRENGTHS INTO YOUR CAREER Think about how your current responsibilities align with your strengths: What are you already doing that uses your strengths? Keep doing these things! Work on building these strengths and/or partner with peers who have them What are you doing that requires strengths you don’t have? What opportunities do you see that use your strengths? Go after those things! (julie) Once you have identified your strengths, you should start thinking about how to build them into your career. * What are you already doing that uses your strengths? You should absolutely keep doing those things * What are you doing that could really benefit from strengths you don’t have? Think about how you can develop those strengths. * What are opportunities that exist in the market where you can use your strengths to explore that career jungle gym? Go after those. Julie: About 6 months ago, I was working on the Ads team in Menlo Park and heard about a new project using artificial intelligence to assist blind FB users to ‘view’ their pictures in the NewsFeeds. I consider one of my Strengths is my passion for fairness and this project touched my heart. Although it had little to do with my official work space, I asked for flexibility in my schedule to conduct this research and help create this important project. It helped lead to a successful launch of the new tool and the team is looking at ways of expanding it. (nika next)
  19. 19. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 STRENGTHS + THE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT LIFECYCLE Which of your strengths are most valuable during… ➤ Requirements gathering ➤ Design and evaluation ➤ Launch ➤ Post-launch (nika) You also want to think about what strengths are needed depending on what phase of the development cycle you are working in. What strengths are needed to do exploratory research at the requirements gathering phase may vary greatly from what strengths are needed when running iterations of evaluative research. The key is being able to identify where your team is today and where it needs to get to, and using your strengths to get them there.
  20. 20. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016STRENGTHEN YOUR TEAM 15 min (julie) So now that we’ve discussed what leadership looks like and how you are uniquely positioned to be a leader by using your strengths, let’s discuss how to use them to strengthen your team. Most of us work together on projects and these tips will help you work more effectively together, to balance the workload in a way where everyone is leveraging their strengths and everyone finds the work that best suits them. The power of strengths is amplified when brought together in a team.
  21. 21. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 TEAM EVENTS 1. Take strengths assessment 2. Share with each other the strengths from your assessment 3. Evaluate strengths at the team level ➤ What are we missing? ➤ What do we have the most? ➤ What are the implications for the team? Either work on those strengths or bring someone new 4. Continually check in to align work to strengths (julie) When we did this on our team, we found our team lacked one strength and we talk about how we might hire for that skill Julie: On our team, we had grown significantly and we needed more organization around the details of the projects we were working on. By doing this exercise, and reflecting on my own areas of strength, I realized I really don’t enjoy organizing that. My strength was more about seeing holistic views. However another person on the team loved doing this kind of detailed work and bringing order to chaos and offered to lead that part of it. Nika: I thought it was incredibly fun and informative to do this as a team activity. It was eye-opening to learn that not everyone liked or was good at doing the same type of work as each other! It was also helpful to realize that my own strengths were the things that helped me have impact.
  22. 22. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 FORMAL AND INFORMAL PARTNERSHIPS ➤ Pairing with other team members who have complementary perspectives ➤ Buddy Program ➤ Consider when planning large projects how to balance strengths on the team Remember! Roles/job titles are not strengths ➤ During goal setting times, encourage growth in strengths using partnerships (nika) Sometimes knowing you have a strength doesn’t meant you’re the best at that strength, we all have room to grow. You may have an enormous capacity to grow in your strengths. By seeking out others who have similar strengths you can also improve your work and leverage your strength more effectively. Team members should share their strengths with each other and find ways to partner. If you’re a manager, identify your direct reports’ strengths and help them share this with each other. Create opportunities for people to form partnerships. Example of how different people with strengths can partner with each other. Julie: Cooper Consulting embraces this by finding design pairs who are complementary. One is a generator, whose role is to create quantity and variety of ideas. The other is a synthesizer whose role is to combine and refine the ideas. If you’re working on complicated research project you may want to brainstorm with someone who has the complementary strength who can help you go from one to the other.
  23. 23. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 NURTURING YOUR STRENGTHS ➤ Identify mentors in your strength areas ➤ Make your strengths a regular part of conversations with your peers and managers ➤ Write strengths based Performance Reviews (nika) Finally, remember to nurture your strengths. although these are things you are naturally good at, you still need to actively keep them in mind. * Seek out mentors who have strengths you want to improve for yourself. Be a mentor to someone else. * Talk with your team and your manager about your strengths. Make it a regular part of your career growth * Write performance reviews and peer feedback based on strengths (Nika) I am such a believer in strengths based leadership that I write performance reviews based on them. I talk about how effectively I brought order to chaos in exploring a particularly challenging research topic, or how I used my problem solving skills to tackle a gnarly workflow issue. When I write reviews for my peers, I use what I know about their own strengths to talk about where they shine and where they can have even more impact in the coming quarter. This provides something that is understandable and actionaable based on that person’s potential.
  24. 24. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 RESOURCES ➤ Clarity on Fire - Passion Profile Quiz: ➤ Free test for Lean In members: your-strengths-own-your-strengths- no-one-else-will/ ➤ Reflected Best Self test: cpo-tools/reflected-best-self- exercise-2nd-edition/ ➤ University of Kent strengths quiz: Choosing/strengths.htm ➤ Strengths Finder and Stand Out workshops (nika) There are lots of free resources online for finding your strengths. If you want to participate as a team and have money to spend, the Strengths Finder and Stand Out workshops are worthwhile. Or, you can try some of the many free tests that are available online. These resources will get you started.
  25. 25. @uxjulie @infosmithing #UXPA2016 THANK YOU! QUESTIONS? Provide feedback on our session: