Building a highly functioning tech team from the ground up can feel a bit like trying to understand Java in your first computer science class. So, be prepared. You might struggle to convince management that the roles are necessary in the first place. Then, you may not know how many people to hire since tasks are fluid.
Scott Wilkinson and Aaron Gardner are all too familiar with these challenges. Scott is the Director of User Experience within the Aladdin Product Group at BlackRock and Aaron, Director, is the head of User Experience and Design within Global Marketing.
User Experience (UX) and User Interaction (UI) are relatively new fields with their core principles deriving from a user-centric approach to software creation. This means UX/UI professionals try to put themselves in the end user's shoes and see what problems they are looking to solve through the software.
And at BlackRock, Scott and Aaron are tasked with creating entirely new UX/UI teams with constantly changing goals in mind. But, they've become pros at handling the ever-changing nature of UX/UI responsibilities and at hiring teams who can do the same. Here, Scott and Aaron share a series of tips on building robust, collaborative teams from scratch.
Get Management to Buy In
Support from management and any other personnel that may have say is integral to creating teams with room to grow, Aaron says. He advises getting management to really comprehend what it is you are trying to achieve so they have a better understanding of its importance. Aaron set up a series of Design Thinking Workshops with colleagues so management could “come along for the design ride" and understand the value behind investing in UX and UI.
“Understand the perspective they're coming from and make an argument from that point of view," Scott suggests. For example, when Scott approached a development leader, he explained how the iterative prototyping that comes with UX design could actually help shorten development time. The leader was sold when he saw the time savings his team would realize.
By explaining the possible end result and subsequently getting others on board, you can build a strong internal community that will help in persuading others. At BlackRock teams are raising awareness about design across the company, starting with creating internal bios for all designers, which help to clarify their roles and the importance of design.
When you're excited about a project, it's easy to become immersed in the idea and forget how to articulate the usefulness of the project to others. But, it's integral that higher ups buy-in and support what you're doing in order to succeed. So, take some time to perfect your pitch and educate your organization prior to diving in and requesting a team of new hires.
Decide How Many (and Whom) to Hire
Don't build large teams right away, advises Scott. Have your initial team tackle a small project. The results should be enough to galvanize team growth. The first set of hires need to be evangelists for your team, so carefully cull these either through employee referrals or your own networks, advises Scott, whose own group is just over six months old.
Scott says that building UX/UI teams is especially challenging as there are not many objective measures against which to test potential candidates and portfolio review takes time. That's why he leans heavily on referrals. And as your team grows, so will your base of referrals.
"A team with a bunch of superstars is not always going to win," Aaron says. It's not enough that every team member be a star performer. They need to play well together. How do you achieve this?
Scott advises hiring people who are great at their jobs but who also understand the larger picture. Have a conversation with potential hires to see where they will fit in and how they will collaborate with team members.
Attract and Hire the Best
Ensuring flexibility is also key to attracting and retaining top talent, Aaron says. Especially if your company has a global footprint, employees can work collaboratively from anywhere. So trusting talent with flexible work options is a great incentive.
In addition to working from referrals, you need to have a good vetting process in place. Develop an interview process that gets to the heart of what you're looking for. This could mean careful evaluation of design portfolios or providing objective tests to evaluate technical knowledge. Multiple interviews with the existing team also give both team members and interviewees a chance to see whether the new hire will work well within the team.
It may take longer, but in the end, you'll have a team you can count on. And that's essential to working toward solutions that may change along the way.
Make HR Your Recruiting Ally
Really work with your internal recruiting team to make sure they know what you're looking for, Scott advises. Since HR is the face of the company for new recruits, it's important they clearly understand each role and its nuances.
“If you're a UX designer who has been working for five years and the recruiter doesn't know how to talk to you about that job, it's going to turn you off," Scott says. Talk to HR and explain the process for evaluating candidates for each position. Running through the specifics of the position and what you are looking for in candidates with HR is always a good idea to ensure their goals are aligned with yours.
Create Long-Lasting Relationships
Since qualified talent is precious, you want to hold on to them as long as you possibly can. While turnover is inevitable, keep the team culture strong, both Aaron and Scott advise. “Give talent a sense of ownership," Scott says. “You're not just coming here to do design work, you're coming here to help build design culture and help that grow."
Making an investment in your employees is key for the long-term reputation of the team and will play a role in attracting new talent in the future. Depending on the team you're trying to create and the type of candidates you're looking for, that investment will look different. Maybe it's continued education or team building outings. Whatever it is, the investment will be worth it if it creates lasting relationships with top employees.
And as you build or expand teams, Aaron and Scott suggest that you give every teammate room to grow, and the ability to try new roles and collaborate in different ways. It will make work a lot more productive and fun.
So, stay focused on your end goals and follow these tips, and you'll be on your way to building an unstoppable team from scratch.