Discovering Our Legacy – Design Team Building Workshop

 August 5th, 2020

Anna Arteeva

 

Author: Anna Arteeva

Head of Product Design at optile

optile’s design team recently welcomed a new team player, celebrated the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Germany, and praised our diversity. Spring of 2020 was not an easy period, but we are coming out of it more united and resilient.

We organized a virtual design workshop to nourish the personal connections within the team and to welcome a new teammate in an original way. Starting a new job is a challenge — there are so many things to learn and people to meet. Blending into a team via Zoom calls where everyone already knows each other in real life is even more difficult. Trustful relationships with colleagues are crucial for fulfilling and productive work. After all, we probably spend more time at work than anywhere else. I am happy we did not lose this trust while being physically apart. Innovation can only happen in an environment, where ideas flow freely, where it’s safe to experiment and make mistakes. Here, no one feels left alone — there is always someone there to have your back. 

This set of fun exercises allowed us to get to know each other from a new, unusual perspective. Having a good time together was the nice side effect. Nonetheless, the real mission was to discover our true backgrounds, motivations, values, and explore the curvy paths that brought us to where we are today. Uncomfortable personal questions were part of the plan. After all, who cares if we like cats or dogs, tea or coffee? Why waste time on small talk when hard topics can do more to break the ice?

Exercise#1: History Map

Instructions:

  • Place a pin onto the map to the place where you grew up.
  • Drag your childhood photo to the board.
  • Think about what is valuable and meaningful to you that you got from growing up there. Not an object, but a value or characteristic feature. Explain briefly why this is important to you.
  • Tell us what it was like to be you. What were your dreams? What were your hobbies? What did you want to be? What were your superpowers?
  • Looking back, what do you admire most about your childhood self?

Nowadays, diversity and inclusion are on all of our radars. In the case of optile, it’s hard to imagine how we could do better. Among the approximate 70 people, there are 27 nationalities represented. Professional skills and personal traits are defining factors during the hiring process; nationality or gender rarely plays a role.

While looking at the legacies that we have within the design team we discovered that we not only gathered people from all continents — and we are only 8 in the team — but for some of us, exploring the world is a shared family trait. We all have different backgrounds. For some, it was an uncomfortable topic and brought some unpleasant memories. For others, they could go on and on remembering how fun it was to be a kid. One team member said that she managed to overcome her shyness just like I did!. Someone had hundreds of hobbies, another wanted to become an acrobat, one hates their name because it was too unusual, and another because it was too common. Sharing these experiences sparked moments of meaningful connection. Our past shaped the unique personalities that we have today, and talking about it helped us to understand each other better. Suddenly, you see the colleagues you already knew from a new unusual perspective, through a prism of fascinating stories and aspirations.

Exercise #2: Language Basket 

Instruction: 

Write a language that you can speak in one of the circles, or add +1 if this language is already there. 

To be honest, I didn’t expect the basket to be so full! 

Language is not only a communication tool but also one for cultural insight. By learning a language, one also learns about the traditions of the countries they are spoken in. Common superstitions, references to popular books and movies, even the way they buy things or save for retirement are often inferred by a language. As designers, we should understand users with diverse social backgrounds to design smooth experiences that work all over the world. It’s much easier to do this when much of this knowledge is already within the team.

Exercise #3: Campfire Story 

Instructions: 

  • Use the story spine by Pixar to tell a story of “How I became a Designer” 
  • You can use real facts or make them up. 

This was a spontaneous creativity exercise that enabled everyone to talk about their unique path to the design field. 

Although it is not apparent, storytelling is a critical design skill. The idea that a designer’s job is to make things pretty has long retired. We create human experiences, and experiences always come with stories. Creating good stories is not a given; it is a craft that requires mastering, and mastery comes with practice. Pixar is well known for its original storylines — their cartoons fixate kids and adults alike. I have to confess, that I often tear-up during the most emotional parts. We applied Pixar’s story formula, or story spine as they say, to make our career paths sound book or movie-worthy. What did we get? Lots of fantastic stories with curvy paths! Giving up a climbing career to be a designer? Easy! Do studies in physics, economics, or landscape design help? Of course! 

Conclusion

We all can create meaningful moments with those whom we spend the most time with — our teammates. It requires a bit of effort and preparation, but it certainly pays off. These were a fun but intense, emotional and insightful couple of hours. I am proud to belong to such a fantastic team. To be continued! 

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