As a company leader, you want assurance that you’re getting your money’s worth from your design team. One way to measure this is to look at your team’s effectiveness. 

An effective design team: 

  • Follows a consistent, documented process
  • Clearly communicates — and agrees on — how they’re going to meet user expectations and business goals 
  • Ships products on schedule and with minimal rework 

Are you sweating yet?

If this sounds like the complete opposite of your group, assess your team’s maturity ASAP. Understanding and then leveling up your design team's maturity leads to an increase in both quality and speed. 

What Does — and Does NOT — Define Design Team Maturity? 

Before we can talk about what characterizes an effective, mature design team (and how to create one), we need to debunk common misconceptions about maturity. 

Maturity Is NOT about Years of Experience  

Here’s a (semi) harsh reality: Just because someone on your team has decades of digital product experience does not mean he's mature or contributing to team-wide maturity. 

From a design team perspective, maturity has absolutely nothing to do with years of experience. Why? Because someone’s tenure tells you zilch about his effectiveness, or his ability to work as a cog in the larger design team machine. 

In fact, there’s a good chance your most senior designers and engineers are holding you back from maturity. 

Think of it this way. We all know that one guy who insists on building wireframes in Photoshop. No matter how many times he’s told that’s no longer the best tool for the job, he refuses to change. At this point, it’s muscle memory. With repetition (read: many years of experience) comes habit. But this unwillingness to budge might be keeping your whole team from the best wireframe option out there. 

Maturity Is NOT about Individual Skill Level 

Another misconception about team maturity? That it correlates with skill level. You could have the most talented people in the world on your team — “rock stars,” as the industry likes to deem design mavens. But your company will never ship anything of value (work maturely) if your team doesn’t function as a unit

Say you’re a baseball GM and you have the most amazing, record-breaking shortstop on your team. The opponent is up to bat — lucky for you, he hits the ball directly to your shortstop. Right on cue, the all-star shortstop fields the ball and throws it to first. But your first baseman is picking his nose. The rival runner is safe, and your shortstop’s A+ play goes to waste. 

See why one highly-skilled team member does not make a winning team?

What Does Define a Mature Design Team, Anyway?

A mature design team is one that works together as a trusting unit toward well-articulated, agreed-upon goals. 

The emphasis is on the ‘unit’ part. 

Also, a mature team is able to repeat the process over and over again — creating and shipping digital products efficiently.

How to Create a Mature Design Team in 4 Steps

Explaining the process of fostering a mature design team is easier with the help of some friends: Marcus Lemonis, Ray Dalio, and Evan LaPointe. 

First, Marcus Lemonis. On his show The Profit, Lemonis emphasizes the importance of the three P’s of business: People, Process, and Product. Take note, the order of the P’s matters here. Too often, people want to jump right into building the thing — the product — without addressing the people problems first. 

This tees us up for step one of creating a mature design team… 

1. Hire Great People 

It does not matter how innovative your product is if you don’t have the right people at the helm of the ship. In his book Principles, Ray Dalio discusses building the right machine with the right people running it. 

We know not every designer or engineer is a rock star, but do your best to bring on as many exemplary players as possible. It’ll go a long way toward overall team maturity. 

2. Put Your Great People in the Right Roles

You wouldn’t ask a car mechanic to repair your swimming pool. Don’t put a visual designer in front of a bunch of spreadsheets. To attain design team maturity, spend time putting people in the right roles based on their unique personalities and skill sets. 

Evan LaPointe has previously shared that you should seek to understand the people behind the job descriptions so you can map out how to use their natural skills in more effective ways. 

In sum, align people’s skill sets with their responsibilities to maximize their intrinsic talents and their contributions to your newly mature team. 

3. Nurture a Socratic Culture 

Once you have the right people in the right roles, focus on getting your culture right. 

Most companies practice consensus culture — attempting to get everyone to agree on an idea or process before moving forward. But this is incredibly limiting. 

Instead, aim for a Socratic culture. In a Socratic culture, each individual speaks up about his or her area of expertise. And, importantly, there’s inherent trust that each expert knows his or her field best. For example, when there’s a question on color, the designer answers, and everyone else trusts the designer’s response. 

Additionally, a Socratic culture asks each team member to be somewhat humble by constantly asking, “What am I missing?” This question opens the floodgates, allowing everyone to contribute to paint a fuller picture of any problem. 

As a result of both trusting the experts in the room and sourcing missing pieces collectively, the team’s knowledge is multiplied.   

How does this help with design team maturity? At the end of the day, a socratic culture breeds trust, and trust breeds team maturity. 

4. Decide on Your Process 

As mentioned, you cannot skip to this step, as many companies do. You can only concern yourself with process after you solve your people problems.

Once you are ready to tackle process, remember that, while the macro steps of most processes are well-defined, the nuances will be specific to your team and your people. Back to our baseball metaphor: Each team has its own playbook even though they’re all playing the same game. 

If you’re looking for a new design process to try, we wrote one called Loops. Need help with process implementation and optimization? We can do that, too.

We have good news: Simply considering design team maturity puts you ahead of many companies. It’s a relatively new way to think about team effectiveness, and you can optimize your team ahead of your competition with these four steps.