The design skills your team needs.

Your customer is changing.

But what about your employees?

Are you giving them the design skills they need to transform your organization? Or are you just sending them to the annual conference and passing along the most recent issue of ‘insert industry name’ magazine?

We all want our employees to think critically and show creativity. While design thinking is (finally?) coming of age, it will take more than introducing the principles of design to the way people work — you need to give people the skills to work.

Skills like sketching, remote creation and interviewing.

Skill gaps.

Being put in charge of another peer is scary.

I had no idea how to help the first person I was asked to manage. I assumed he knew what he was doing — after all, he applied for the job — and only in retrospect did I realize I had a responsibility for how he worked, not just what he worked on.

How could I reasonably expect growth, if I was not helping him grow?

I needed to give him access to new skills. But I didn’t know what skills he needed.

Our professional development? It consisted of an annual conference and half-ass attempt at Google’s often lauded, but might not have existed 20% time.

My first training class as a professional? A half-day learning photoshop. I never went back, never took another class, learned on the job, self-taught on the skills I needed to do my work, but not the skills I needed to improve our organization’s service.

This is typical of our modern workforce. A solitary approach to professional development that might help one employee, might conflict with the larger team and might not ever benefit the customer.

The skills gap most often points to the missing abilities of critical thinking and problem solving. Skills that are easy to mention, but difficult to develop.

So, how do you develop problem solving or creativity?

I think you start by teaching employees how to ask better questions, communicate visually and become comfortable using remote creation tools.

The design skills your team needs.

My recommendations are not exhaustive, but practical. This is what we have seen work and what we have worked on with clients and workshop attendees.

Empathy (or asking better questions.)
Understanding your customer is the key to improving that customer’s experience. If you can’t ask questions, you will never know the answer.

Order everyone a copy of Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research.

Never ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.

Play an interview game like 3 question mingle to start a regular meeting — and do it for weeks in a row — the more you play, the more interesting the questions get.

Invite a local journalist — preferably investigative — to present their methods to your team.

Volunteer to teach a group a kindergarteners about a mind-blowing topic — space, bugs, frogs — and just listen to the questions they come up with.

To support the design principle of prototyping it is important that your team is comfortable and confident sharing their ideas visually. That means sketching with pen, pencil, Sharpie, marker and mouse.

Order everyone a sketch book or adult coloring books (our workshops love them) to get back in the habit of sketching and coloring.

Get to one of Dave Gray’s excellent visual thinking workshops. As Dave says: ‘If your ideas can’t be drawn, they can’t be done.’

Enroll your team into an art class (eg. local college, studio) or via an online MOOC (massive online open course) like Penn State’s Intro to Art, Amsterdam University’s Prototyping Interaction or WHU’s Visual Thinking course.

Remote creation / remote design
For many of our organizations, remote work is now commonplace, but often complicated. Services such as Mural and InVision make remote design easier, but require practice to encourage regular usage.

Schedule sandbox time with your team and explore how people want to use the application.

Ask new meeting participants to a pre-meeting introduction session — give them a tour of how it works.

Use remote tools when everyone is in the same room to encourage practice, create records and store good ideas in your own remote museum.

What would happen if your team had a fraction of these skills?

They would communicate better, create more ideas, be more open with each other and ultimately produce a better service for your customers.

Becoming a design-focused organization and thereby a customer-focused organization does not occur by accident. It requires new skills and a shared approach to creating these skills.

Your customer is changing. How are you helping your employees change with them?

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