Re-discover and re-work

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Sharon Jay

Here at Five Mile, we like to avoid stagnation in our thinking, ideas and goals. Triggered in part by how many new things we've learnt this year through the early adoption of Drupal 8 on our client work, we realised that if our skills and knowledge were getting a hard revamp, then it's also a great time to take a look at the bigger picture. And to do that, we asked ourselves what would be a great way to open up a conversation between us as individuals, as a team and as a business?

One of the new methods we've adopted in our client work is to conduct requirements and strategy workshops. We do this using a Design Studio approach (you can read more here) and we've had real success in helping clients get to the root of translating their goals into project need. And since the Design Studio approach is an incredibly flexible method we thought, why don't we flip the process around by conducting an adapted and personalised version of the Design Studio on ourselves.

Visual thinking - the concept

As children we have an innate ability to express ourselves through drawing but for many of us, as we grow older drawing becomes less and less relevant as a means of mapping out our ideas and thinking. Whether it's reservations around our sketching skills that hold us back or simply the every-day reality that technology leads us towards other methods of communication, there is for many of us a hesitation in grabbing a piece of paper and a Sharpie pen to draw out our thoughts.

And I think it's for that exact reason that structuring a workshop around visual thinking can help. The process of drawing and thinking about things in a creative way can allow us to make sense of jumbled or complex issues. From flow charts to brainstorming, this visual thinking approach can allow you to map out your thoughts and help you to unpick them. But also it can really help with sharing your ideas and helping others to understand them.

Change can be hard

Small businesses can find change hard. Not just the lack of time or resource but I think there is also a tendency or expectation for change to have to come down from the top. And for small businesses it's probably true that change will often be more effective if it didn't come down from the top alone. After all, as managers how in tune are we really with the day to day frustrations that may exist amongst our team members who are probably sitting on plenty of ideas that would help their day-to-day work and help realise the full potential in our businesses.

Frustrations are bound to be experienced frequently in any working environment but lasting change is often slower to happen, if it happens at all. We must not be afraid to shake the tree. The fear of real change keeps us stuck in a cycle with the desire for change ever constant.

And as we learn more about how other teams are turning to self-management, we are asking whether the answer to bringing change about in the right way could lie in asking team members to own the process of change for themselves. And that means starting by discovering collectively what we know, who we are and creating the right environment for mapping out opinions and ideas.

Re-discovery workshop

We conducted a one day workshop for sharing as a team, unpicking our insights and perceptions, stating or re-stating our ambitions and to inform our direction as a business in an open format. Especially important to us was the opportunity to perhaps find out what we don't know and explore what that could mean for the future of Five Mile.

Starting with an individual approach, allowing team members to express their own thoughts - these were then shared with the group. It was a case of 'any idea or opinion is valid', the floor is open! And these thoughts were sketched out and then 'pitched' to help collectively build a picture of how we see Five Mile today and how we might see the business changing and progressing.

The structure for the workshop was only partially planned, kicking off with questions that were put to all, such as “How do your future clients perceive Five Mile?” By trying to look at our business from a customer perspective we stopped being inward looking and started to see differing perspectives. It was fascinating to see how we perceive ourselves, even if not necessarily what clients do think, all still valid since it plays into our own perception.

But perhaps the best and most long lasting ideas we took away were the need for a lasting collaborative approach towards identifying common goals. By drilling deep into thoughts shared, whether ideas or problems, we could focus on how we ensure change. It gets our thinking and ideas out into the open and dispels any misinterpretation or lack of information. The benefits of this process in terms of adding inspiration to your work cannot be underestimated. Returning to the normal work day with a renewed sense of purpose can only improve communication, working relationships and ultimate outcomes.

The outcome, for us

Turning the process of Design Studio on ourselves meant we were able to offer the team the opportunity to take ownership of their ideas and the motivation to follow them through. We each know where we stand and what we want to achieve.

It is like pressing the reset button, but with all of your past experiences firmly in mind. Looking to the future and knowing it is a shared goal is empowering. There’s no trend to buck and no undue influence. We work together and we grow together. It is as simple as that.

About Sharon:

I help identify and develop ideas and approaches to ensure that Five Mile continues to grow as a strong and ambitious digital agency passionate about user experience, open-source technology, community and culture. At Five Mile I take pride in ensuring that our talented and expert team deliver great digital experiences, create happy users and ultimately help businesses thrive.