To persuade your team to look past quick wins, you need to understand the funnel

How RICE prioritization and Funnel Analysis can help you re-prioritize design problems

An animated illustration of Master Chief and the Arbiter taking a joyride in their Warthog and bonding together. Credit: Trip Carroll

The importance of building close relationships within your team.

As a middle school student in the early 2000s, the height of life was pretending to be a 7-foot-tall super soldier, and frag aliens into oblivion with my best buddies. We built camaraderie through a mutual appreciation of carnage. Our trust forged through wave after wave of monsters bent on our destruction. We worked together to conquer our foes, and learned a lot about each other in the process.

Trust was foundational to a good team in Halo, and it’s even more important now.

Simon Sinek, in his book The Infinite Game, defines trust as “the belief that someone is reliable, honest, and has good intentions.” He goes on to argue that trusting teams are the healthiest and highest-performing kinds of teams that we have. When team members know each other, when they trust each other, they’re more likely to collaborate effectively, communicate openly, and take risks without fear of failure.

A team that trusts each other can defeat the Covenant and save the universe from destruction.

They’re more likely to succeed in the long run because they can change and adapt to challenge. They can identify and fix problems, particularly the ones they’re responsible for. “When team members trust each other, they are more likely to be honest with each other about mistakes and problems. This allows the team to learn and improve more quickly.”

According to a study by ignite80, printed in the Harvard Business Review, teams with high levels of trust were more likely to achieve their goals, even when they were facing difficult challenges. The study also found that team members who trusted each other were more likely to be satisfied with their work and to stay with the team for the long term.

If you know your teammates won’t shoot you in the back, if you know they’ll cover you, if you know they’ll help you through your own blunders, you’ll stick together through thick or thin.

Creating a culture of trust

But how do you do that? How do you get a group of people to connect, support, and actually learn to like each other?

As a design leader, this is something I think about constantly. Although, I frame the question a little differently, “how do I make work more fun?”

There’s a lot of science behind the effectiveness of making work fun. It can increase people’s creativity, enhances job satisfaction, improves motivation, and strengthens trust.

I’ve written more extensively about fun in the workplace here.

By “fun”, I don’t mean some method for avoiding work. Unlike lots of people burning the finite resource of their lives for money, I love the work I get to do. What I mean is, “how might I create a culture that encourages people to learn, grow, build, connect, and enjoy the time they’re doing that together?”

Figure out how to use long spoons

Have you heard the allegory of the long spoons? It’s a parable that show the difference between heaven and hell by means of people being forced to eat with long spoons.

The allegory can be summarized as follows:

In each location, the inhabitants are given access to food, but the utensils are too unwieldy to serve oneself with. In hell, the people cannot cooperate, and consequently starve. In heaven, the diners feed one another across the table and are sated.

The physical environment isn’t what makes hell horrible. It’s just as comfortable as heaven. It’s the culture that these people have created for themselves. We can have a blast together with full bellies, or we can make each other miserable.

Let’s change how we work

As UX designers, we’re lucky that we get to solve interesting, complex problems. But there’s also a lot of boring difficult work. I call it “trudgery.” Even when we need to trudge, we can make work a lot of fun. That fun can lead to teams that trust each other, have each other’s back, and are incredibly productive and creative.

Changing the culture requires soft skills; the most important of which is that you truly care about your team (hopefully, you have that down pat). If you care, then leveraging these tools will feel authentic to the people you’re working with. But if you don’t actually care, then maybe re-examine your motivations as a leader.

Some practical tools

Here are a few of my methods for leading teams and building an environment of trust:

Co-op Campaign

Or, Quarterly Planning

In Halo’s co-op campaign, working together requires coordination, communication and strategy. Similarly, in the workplace, achieving goals often requires strategic planning and collective effort. We’re in this together!

On my team, we do quarterly planning sessions to identify what our primary goals are, review major projects, and align on priorities. This workshop takes about an hour, and it’s primary goal is alignment. I want everyone on my team to know the one thing that we want to accomplish this quarter.

If you’re interested in my quarterly planning workshop, check it out here.

Fireteam Dynamics

Or, Areas of Ownership

Aligning on our team’s primary goal as well as major projects plays into each team member’s area of ownership. In Halo, a fireteam works best when members complement each other’s strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses. At work, understanding and leveraging each team member’s strengths leads to a more effective and cohesive unit.

We do this by giving each person on the team an area of ownership or a project where they can lead and push work forward. This is really helpful for their personal growth. For every project that Momentum undertakes, there is an owner who is responsible and pushing the ball forward.

Master Chief and the Arbiter from the game Halo, taking a brief moment to reload, though Covenant weapons don’t typically reload, because they’re fueled by a single power source. Credit: Trip Carroll

Resupply and Reload

Or, Regular 1on1s

In Halo, you need ammo and health packs to stay in the game. At work, I have regular , bi-weekly check-ins and support help team members stay motivated and productive, ensuring everyone has what they need to succeed.

During these meetings, I check in about each of the projects they’re responsible for. I like to lean into Kim Scott’s questions from Radical Candor:

  1. What’s on your mind? Or, is there anything you’d like to discuss?
  2. Is there anything blocking your progress?
  3. What can I do to help you achieve your goals?

Warthog Joy Rides

Or, Design Jams

Taking a drive in the warthog together, allows players to work hand in hand with one another. On our team, we use “design jams”. We block an hour or two on the calendar to explore solutions to a particular problem together, typically in Figma. It’s a great opportunity to turn difficult problems, or mundane work into a time of connection and collaboration.

If you are not doing collaborative work on your team, I highly suggest it. It’s particularly fun when you need to cruise through a set of component updates, where the work is necessary but a little tedious.

Energy Sword

Or, Asking Good Questions

It helps to get close and personal. I’ve found that building relationships at work often involves direct, honest, and open communication to strengthen connections. If you are not intentional about this, you work alongside someone for year without knowing anything about them.

I think this is a tragedy.

I am fully remote. That makes conversation about life difficult. Gone are the days of taking a 15-minute coffee break with your coworker to ask them what they did on their weekend.

Take every opportunity you can to learn about the people you work with. One thing that I like to do before a meeting starts is to ask something completely off topic in order to learn more about the people on the call (and get them to learn about each other). Or, I may ask a specific question about something in my team member’s background (if it’s real), “hey Julie, is that some photography equipment back there? What kind of photography do you do?”

Usually, a specific question towards a specific person is most effective. The answers are fascinating and will lead to more questions. Other people will have opinions and some truly interesting and beautiful things can happen.

Here are a few of my favorite questions:
• What are you excited about right now?
• What are you currently reading?
• What is an idea that you’ve been thinking about a lot lately?
• How are you growing in this season of your life?

Design work for people

There’s a bigger picture here. As designers, we’re builders and makers, not just of product, but of the culture around us. How are you using your design skills and sensibilities to improve the lives of the people around you? How are you designing an environment where relationships thrive, and trust grows?

Further Reading

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stewart Brown

How High-Performing Teams Build Trust by Ron Friedman

Why Work Should be Fun by Bob Nelson

Does Fun Pay? The Impact of Workplace Fun on Employee Turnover and Performance Michael J. Tews, John W. Michel, Kathryn Stafford

The scientific structure and evolution of trust within performance-oriented teams research: A citation network analysis and critical review McGuire, C. S., & Martin, L. J. (2023)

Affiliate Disclosure: Any Amazon links are affiliate links and help support my writing and drawing.

Fragging aliens and fostering trust was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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