Tips on How to Unite Your Design Team During Tough Times

04/23/2020 By Ellen Fisher and Susan Ray-Degges

How many times in the last month has someone asked you, “How is it going? Is there anything I can do to help?” These types of questions reflect leaders, regardless of their position, demonstrating compassion, empathy and support when times are tough. If you are a leader and ignore these personal connections, you are missing the opportunity to build relationships that can engage, energize, and unite your team and organization.

Transparency and trust

Even in less unpredictable times, leaders should not just ask the simple question, “How are things going?”, but instead ask the difficult ones that focus on what is happening: “I know we may be struggling to achieve X. What can we do to be successful in achieving this goal?” and, “How can I help?”

Woman working on laptop in bedroom
Photo: Because of COVID-19, design educators have had to shift their focus to planning virtual educational programs that will engage their students, mitigate inequity and achieve the necessary learning outcomes; Courtesy of North Dakota State University

Trust between colleagues grows from knowing that we are not in the trenches alone, and that others are there with support from beginning to end. Questions like these when sincerely asked are the bedrock of transparent communication, and transparent communication itself is the foundation of trust.

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Transparent communication creates the setting for team members to feel invested in the organization, know their input is valued and that they can openly share their concerns. When leaders share problems they face and openly discuss difficult decisions and day-to-day challenges, they invite the trust of all members of their team.

Celebrate success

In difficult times, the definitions of success change in both design practice and in design education. For practitioners, working virtually provides new perspectives on working with clients and project management; similarly, educators are focused on planning how suddenly-virtual educational programs will continue to engage their students, mitigate inequity and achieve the necessary learning outcomes.

There are small wins and great ones in both studio and in management, whether with future designers or practicing professionals. Most important though, is that a leader’s recognition of successes small and large boosts morale during difficult times.

[Related: ASID and Haworth Leaders Discuss Evolving Workplace Culture]

A good leader appreciates the successes of his or her team, and reminds them that what they do is valuable, and that every accomplishment is to be celebrated. As interior design practice and design education both have shifted to the “virtual world” of online platforms, leaders need to keep everyone feeling connected. Checking in often to see how individuals are faring, and with teams to see that projects are moving ahead—regular moments of authentic connection create community, foster trust, and keep people focused and energized.

Vision

Tomorrow’s leaders will be forever transformed by the experiences of this crisis. The sudden, full-throttle move to online work and learning has forced everyone to bridge the gap between home and work, meeting pets, children and extended family, before there was time to protest. What does this mean for leadership in the future? Today there are no solid answers, but the struggles will become the opportunities of tomorrow.

With every crisis society has experienced, interior designers and educators have come out stronger, more resilient and with a new understanding of human nature. For example, today’s crisis is allowing us to see both face-to-face and virtual environments in completely new ways.   It is clear that the impact of COVID-19 will be tremendous. 

Design leaders, both from practice and education, will envision the future moving forward and engage, energize, and unite their teams and organizations.

Read Next: How the Architecture and Design Community Comes Together During Coronavirus