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Hidden Network.

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Hello and welcome back to our Design at Scale – Academy series, focusing on the design practice in a team of ten. The previous articles describe landscape analysis alongside roles and responsibilities. This article aims to discuss the hidden network behind any product team. In his books about leadership, John C. Maxwell describes in detail that behind any successful team is a hidden network that you, as a team member, need to navigate. Set aside the leadership narrative for now; if you are “a leader with no title, " you can apply these immediately. 

The roles and responsibilities define a visible network, whereas the hidden network is characterised by agendas, dependencies and authorities that often do not go hand in hand. It frequently determines how the job is done in a specific organisation. 


Let’s look at the product team from the design perspective and how a sign or group of designers can navigate it to deliver value to the business and reach the influence necessary to advocate for the user and standardised integration of the proposition. 

Visible Network

In one of our previous articles, we discussed the power of the network. As a designer, you are already belonging to the network. Now, you are joining a team where design might not be respected, appreciated, or has no influence. In the best case, you might be joining the team that has done the design without designers, and now you’ll be taking someone else's creativity under your wings. Therefore, respect for the visible network is a must to understand and communicate value to the business. Many organisations have titles that define the hierarchy and responsibility of these individuals. Your test to succeed is to find out from your original questionnaire who has the final say on your outcome. I’m saying this with a great responsibility to all my design colleagues who suffered the subordinate trust.

“Make sure you are talking to the right person. Unfortunately, some people in the business will take your work for granted and use it to visualise their ideas. “

Small organisations and startups

This type of team is easy to navigate and find out the network you are dealing with. Small organisations or start-ups usually have up to 10 designers and no more than five CPOs – Product Owners in the unit. Therefore, defining the visible hierarchy and responsibility matrix in a team of ten is relatively easy. Whether you need the extra research budget or more prototyping time for the prototyping, it's always one person who makes that call. The best way to approach it is to ask who else from your team should be part of this decision. If your CEO or CPO say no, I want it, and we are doing it – you’ve got a green light. If there is a CFO – tech lead or CFO, you’d need to have a different set of responses, but the structure reveals itself in the end.   

Medium organisations and agencies

Medium organisations and agencies have very different mindsets. As the most significant currency is time, you’ll face several stakeholders from the internal and external (client) teams. It's almost impossible because everybody looks at the date the website, campaign or other service goes live. Your network is to find the right chemistry between design leads from your team (design director) and then align the strategy with them. That makes you a better navigator and increases the chances of success. Your objective here is to show that your colleague is up for a better game, and you are up for it. Then, the negotiation and the hierarchy will reveal itself. If you end up in a scenario where your colleague is blocking something the client might appreciate, think twice. The thing that you are correct is to make it right. There might be different agreements in place that you might not seen. Simply pushing for user research that will cut the budget for animation will not work well for you. On the other hand, you can always ask for further clarification. That way, you ensure that the CD and the MD see your intention and willingness to bring a better proposition to the market.

Hidden Network – Map of Pyrenees

In every team, there can be a hidden agenda. And that is why we’ll be introducing the “Map of the Pyrenees” – the story goes that several soldiers were lost in the Swiss Alps in the Second World War. After a depleting task, they were cauted by a snow storm. The terrain was unfamiliar, and the danger of falling in the valley was inevitable. After a miserable 12-hour walk, the team was exhausted, without navigation skills or sense of direction. The leadership team made the wrong decision and the team suffered for it. The Spanish sergeant reached for his pocket and pulled out the Map. With this map, he restored the morale, got the team in order, and marched to its safe point where they could resupply and join the regiment. When the Major asked how he had saved his team, he showed them the Map of Pyrenees. He explained that the pass was coming down, and it was apparent that they would reach the village in a day or so. The challenge was not in weather but the direction. To settle the disputes map served as point of agreement, it also showed the direction.  There was no debate about right or wrong, ranks or importance. It was a question of life or death. Restoring the chatter within and turning the anger to purpose clear the mind and making the team act. The fact that the map didi not show correct terrain was irrelevant it merely served as a token a flag that everybody could follow through the Alps thunderstorms.    

This story reminds me how much time is wasted on miscommunications and hidden agendas. And it shows how businesses lose their impact if they hire toxic people. Join our Design at Scale™ – Academy courses to discover the hidden networks.

The objective here is not to uncover the villain but to be able to navigate it correctly. This allows you to explore meetings and agendas through the lens of a thought leader rather than being hired to deliver the task in a given timeframe. 

You need to stay in touch with your colleagues and subordinates. Please revisit the managing up and down in the designer in a team of one. This will allow you to check with your colleague whether your direction is viable and will reach the desired impact. 

Sadly, as my coaching practice shows, in so many cases, designers reach the point where, after 20+ iterations, their desired proposal is still not implemented. It is only because they have been part of the wrong discussions.

How do you find out? 

It's easy to find out when someone's lying. Our course is based on psychiatric literature aiming to answer organisational liabilities and dynamics, not necessarily personal motivation. We recommend several books with short videos discussing how people can manipulate one's perception. It is more critical for you as a designer to find out what a team's perspective is and understand others and their objectives. It's one of the leading signs where you can find out there is a hidden agenda, let alone a hidden network that influences your work.

Remote

It's essential to mention remote work as, more often, we as designers are part of the product team, which might not be seen in our city or country, let alone our continent. Several designers or design teams in Europe are delivering for Asia, Australia and South America. Even if you provide to the team and the communication language is in English, you can clearly be misunderstood because of the perceived work defined in the beginning. In the end, it's not what has been expected from you, let alone your team. There are several ways to prevent that, and design at scale discusses them in detail in our academic and community. 

Ahead of the network.

How do you get ahead of the network that is invisible to you? There is a great saying: “Be so good they cannot ignore you”. Delivering your work daily impacts the team, but most notably on the people with different agendas. There is consistency, which drives people's decisions about whether they might be part of the hidden network. It will bring you a little closer.

Inevitably, there was a technique still based on the routines we will discuss in the following articles, and it's a show and tell. If you're not part of the network, then getting ahead of the network is to become completely transparent about what you are doing; therefore, none of your designs, ideas, or suggestions can be stolen, manipulated or misinterpreted by different colleagues who can gain the benefit of your hard work in front of the others.

Reputational damage 

One thing you cannot fight against is the reputational damage. This way, someone decides that you are not worthy of being part of the team and will guess lighting the rest of the team to be against you to use your skills, your time and your intellect to use you for them to succeed. If you ever find yourself in this situation, please leave. None of the work is worth of your mental health.

You are in charge. 

Let's look at The Brighter Side of the thing. You are in the team, and now you understand the Dynamics; you know what to look for, how to navigate what to ask and how you've already dated the relationship between different members that soon you can call a family the teams that are as a family are 72% more effective. They are most likely by 34% to be faster on the market with a product or service than the toxic teams with poisonous leadership.

Join me in this series to become a better designer on a team. We offer three-hour courses at the Design at Scale™ – Academy, where you can get tailored answers to your team—followed by the support community that addresses the very challenges of the scale.

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Tagged: agile · coaching · collaboration · cx · dastm · design · designatscale · designer2designer · framework · madebyhuman · management · mentoring · Method · organisations · process · scale · sme · startup · ux · ways_of_working
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