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Three things I’ve learned while growing a team

Robert Mills • 3 minutes

The size of a content team can determine the process followed and tools used.

But what about learnings from the experience of the team itself growing? Well on day twenty of our Content Strategy Advent Calendar Elizabeth McGuane from Intercom shares three things she has learned while growing a team.

🎄  Three things I’ve learned while growing a team, from @emcguane

Video transcript

Hi. I’m Elizabeth. Welcome to the very futuristic and Star Wars like podcast studio at Intercom. I lead the content strategy team here and I’m here to talk to you about three things that I’ve learned in moving from being a team of one, to being a team of slightly more than one, and growing.

Just a slight commercial interlude, we are hiring for the team and you can check out our careers page on intercom.com/careers to have a look.

So here are the three things that I’ve learned in going from a team of one to a team of several. The first one, and I think the first thing that I did when I started at Intercom two years ago, was to make rules for myself. Rules and constraints give me goalposts to stick to and they make the work that I produce coherent over time. To me that’s just what a good design pattern is. It’s a constraint that I set for myself, hopefully based on research, but sometimes you need to set those constraints upfront and then validate them.

When I started I really felt like I needed to have those even though it was just me and I was only a team of one. A lot of people wait to put together principles and patterns until the team grows, but for me, having those rules in place from the beginning was really important.

The second thing, and this is a little bit counter to the whole set yourself rules thing, is to welcome surprises. So working at a start-up is kind of crazy, things change all the time and you have to be ready for surprising things. What I learned is that rather than just being ready for them and just gritting your teeth and bearing it, you have to be willing to capitalise on them and learn from them. So you have your rules but you don’t become blinded by them.

When I started at Intercom I gave this presentation to the design team on Osmo Wiio’s Laws, which there are several of them and it basically boils down to most communication is doomed to failure. I thought this was great, I found this weirdly reassuring. The design team found it weirdly depressing, but I think the reason I found it reassuring is that when I start to design I always start from the point of view that somebody is going to misunderstand it and I should be mindful of that. I should be thinking about the things that people might misunderstand whenever I write anything. And I think that same way of thinking is also true just for how start-ups work and how your work will change over time. Nothing will ever go the way you expect, things will always change, and that’s just a given.

What I’ve learned is in order to embrace that I’ve had to sort of not hold back on my ideas. I learn more from sharing my ideas than from holding them back and kind of perfecting them and I’ll learn more from getting designs in front of people, and words in front of people, communication in front of people, than by obsessing over the system design forever before I actually put it in front of someone. So then I can see exactly how it failed and I can improve it.

The third and last thing is that people remember feelings. This goes for users and for your own business too. People don’t just remember what you say or do, but they remember the experience they have, working with you and moving through your product.

What I learned was, this is actually a good way, this concept of people remember feelings is a good way to bring in concepts of ethics and trust in design conversations. Being trustworthy is about building a relationship. After all, ethics are essential to get people to buy into an experience or a product, or even a company in the long term, and i truly believe that. Maybe it’s doomed to failure, but I really believe that understanding that human emotion is part of what builds an ethical relationship between you and a company. Really brings ethics into the realm of user experience in a more clear way, a more clearly defined way for me.

So that’s it. Those are my three things. Make rules for yourself, welcome surprises and remember that people remember feelings. That’s it. Have a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth leads the content strategy team at Intercom, where she and her team work on thorny product design problems, like developing a new help center product and building a really introverted bot. She’s based in Dublin.

🎄  Three things I’ve learned while growing a team, from @emcguane

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Robert Mills

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