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Rising Tides: Team Dynamics

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Sharing my experience working in a small design team.

a rising tide lifts a ships

A rising tide lifts all ships.

For most of my life, I've done everything in my power to avoid teamwork. In fact, I regularly joke that I am better at managing a team dynamic with a computer than I am with people. This would include academic projects, work, and anything that involves groups of people. With that said, I am a firm believer in the cliche that teamwork makes the dream work and that when you are part of a team when one member succeeds, you all succeed. This is why, as an adult, especially after returning to school, I've worked diligently to overcome my social anxiety and participate wholeheartedly in every team I'm a part of.


My most recent team experience has been, for the most part, rewarding. I work within a small unit of designers that answers to a lead with a clear chain of command. Within the team, deliverables define projects, and the approval/completion process is relatively seamless.

When it goes right—

line drawing of a team of people around a computer

In our last project, I had to turn over designs in the middle of the approval process before they were finished. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but leadership communicated effectively the need for flexibility during this project. That information allowed me to organize my work around asset creation instead of design completion. So, while I didn't complete the project, I laid out the entire framework for the design, uploaded all of my assets, and passed off the project to the team that could take it the rest of the way.

Even when a project doesn't go as planned, my team works together to ensure everything is complete, making the overall experience incredibly positive. However, even in the best teams, there are hiccups.

But sometimes it doesn't.

My leadership team encouraged me to train new team members during a past project. I took time to build out the project from end to end, set up milestone check-ins, and built process training into the design sprint. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the new team member, who originally came on excited, seemed to fizzle out in communication within the first week of onboarding.

The project was pretty standard, and I went above and beyond to create a broken-down project plan specific to sharing our brand with a new design team member. It was a great exercise in leadership, but with my current schedule, every minute of my day counts. When this type of event happens, it requires communication tailored to the team member who is MIA, as well as over-communicating to the rest of the team that the workload may shift and touching base with leadership on the next step when all efforts to engage the project as initially planned have failed. Additional time is also allocated for reworking the project timeline. While I had a solid team to fall back on and ultimately delivered the designs on time, situations where a team member falls out are often uncomfortable.


However, this allowed me to process my early communication (pre-onboarding) and consider how our team's backup behavior operated. I think moving forward, I have an idea of more effective strategies to clarify expectations and communicate roles and responsibilities— especially when unexpected events happen, which tends to be the case sometimes.



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