Studio Culture: Influential leadership

In multi-disciplinary organisations, creative input and energy coming from all directions are just two of many complexities that leaders must manage well.

Contributors

Jacek Barcikowski

Jacek Barcikowski

Head of UX

When design leaders help to mitigate these complexities effectively, the rewards are substantial.

Jacek Barcikowski, Head of User Experience & Design at the BBC, shares how he helps his team build a positive team culture for great work to happen.

Help designers set clear goals

Effective working is hard to achieve without clear goals. Part of my job is to help designers set and work towards these with the right tools and methods.

It's important for everyone in the team to share and visibly commit to the same goals, as it gives team purpose and necessary focus to be effective. If you need to set extra goals for the individuals, make sure they don't contradict the ones set for the team.

Once the goals have been set, it's really important that the team feels empowered to actually achieve them. For a design leader, achieving team goals is not about leading the process - it's about guiding designers to achieve what they set out to do themselves.

As part of the process, I always encourage my team to reflect on their journey so far and ask themselves two important questions: what is working well? And what could be done differently?

Ultimately, reflection is what helps us improve. It's important not to be overly self-critical or to spiral into a blame game, whether it's the act of blaming yourself or others. Being motivated by purpose will always be more effective than being motivated by guilt.

Encourage people to think as a team

A significant part of my role as a design leader is focused around team building; creating a sense of camaraderie and encouraging individuals to think as one team. Doing it at scale among hundreds of designers requires the right space and routines spanning beyond an immediate product team.

That's why we often have team away days where we bring the entire team together in one place. Team away days focus around themes, like service design, play, or future casting, to name just a few.

During our away days we mix a dose of inspiration with an immersive, hands-on, fun activity. Learning about design systems using modelling clay? Creating "fake it until you make it" XR experiences? Venturing into a bazaar with makeshift products from the future? You name it, we've done it.

Teams bond and learn just as much from these abstract activities as they do from classic group activities focused around a particular subject in design. We believe it's good to step away from features and roadmaps, and try something that's a bit more playful instead.

No matter if you are reinventing the future of video in iPlayer, designing for the next global sporting event, or making the weather forecast a delightful experience, there are always skills to be shared and lessons to be learned when practitioners come together.

Mitigate complexity

When working as a designer in a large business, it's not uncommon to have to deal with lots of input from various directions. In a fast-paced environment, with a range of stakeholders from various disciplines, it's only natural for noise to occur, and complexity to creep in. This is usually down to different styles of communication, varying timescales, or incomplete information.

My role as a design leader is to help my team break through that noise, shield them from any unnecessary input, prioritise what's most important and demonstrate that I trust them to deal with any situation.

From design through to any other discipline, it's also important to spot potential issues before they emerge, and help shape the environment for people to avoid these bumps on the road.

The design leader's role

Fundamentally, I think my role as a design leader is to drive people to collaborate and work towards a shared goal together. Driving people isn't about cracking the whip - it's about understanding their needs and ambitions, helping them to overcome challenges, then learn from the process. Wash, rinse, repeat.

When looking for a new design leader, I'm really interested in seeing how the person overcomes challenges. If I can see passion, curiosity and the desire to learn from both successes and failures, then this always sparks my interest.

When there's a lack of design leadership, it's not uncommon to see some people lose their focus, while others naturally fill the leadership void. When you have multiple designers coming together without a clear leader, there are more opportunity for collisions, misunderstandings and misdirection. Even with the best intentions, this kind of dynamic rarely works well, and that's why we invest in dedicated and influential design leadership at the BBC.


This article is part of our Studio Culture series, which explores the important factors that help design teams excel and collaborate effectively.

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