The Supporters Club

I finished off a post last week briefly mentioning the importance of supporting teams. But what exactly does that mean and how is it done? It all sounds pretty easy right?

When I started this role (7ish months ago) I had this niggling thought that leading & supporting, not making, feels like cheating. Without that physical output it can feel like your effort is invisible. Like you’re watching others do all the work. But really supporting is as much problem solving as answering a difficult design question. The results take longer to emerge but they are just as rewarding.

I have worked at a similar level Head of… in two previous roles. In both of those jobs there was much cross-over with the role I have now. Scaling teams, line-managing, arranging training, visits to and from other teams, speaking to stakeholders and planning, planning, planning. But they were much smaller organisations, and that sometimes meant I had to take a hands-on role in the delivery of work too. Quite often going out helping with research, drawing out user journeys, and on a good day getting involved in wire-framing & UI design. I loved this part of my job, it provided visible evidence of my labour. Tangible outputs coming to life on screens that I could prod and probe.

These days I support four functional teams and directly line-manage five leads. It took me a while to adjust to a role of supporting, enabling and not making. Still the work I do varies everyday. That is the beautiful thing about my job, no one day is ever the same. I can focus on speaking to members of the product teams, observing, asking questions. Identifying if there are patterns / consistencies to the problems arising – there are always problems arising. And working with other supporters to try and unblock said problems.

I have fortnightly 1:1’s with the people I line-manage, these are my favourite meetings. It’s a chance to have more in-depth and honest conversations about whatever is most relevant / concerning at that point in time. Coaching is a technique favoured by my organisation. I prefer a more tailored approach, establishing what is most needed by that person on that day and adapting whatever skills i’ve learnt over the last 10 years to that persons needs. Obviously everyone is different and it takes a while to learn what their needs are. So I am still learning, but no-one has said it’s a terrible approach yet.

Talking to other people in the business is also key. Explaining why we work the (probably bizarrely to them) way we work. How it will ultimately be beneficial to the business and our users. Understanding how we can work more efficiently together. Championing user research, product & design without preaching or evangelising. Trying to hit the sweet spot of advocacy without irritation.

If you want to talk about this stuff or anything related to user research, design, product, give me a shout. Maybe we could set up a support group for supporters.