This article is based off of a talk I attended as part of the UXR Conference. It was given by Roy Opata who works at Zapier. His talk was called The Five Dysfunctions of a UXR Team of One (and How to Overcome Them). I believe that these dysfunctions can apply to a much bigger audience than just UXR’s so below are the adjusted dysfunctions of a team of one.
1. You’re a role, but you are also a department.
Being the only one of you in your company can be hard. Not only are you trying to do your role but you are also trying to advocate, manage, and carve out space for your field within the company. Most of the time, the person you report to also has no idea what you actually do and therefore it can be hard to do your actual job. You are trying to carve out space as an expert on the subject but you aren’t spending any time actually developing that expertise. You are spending too much time working ON the role that you aren’t working IN the role.
Solution: Spend more time “in” versus “on”. Dedicate at least one full day a week to working primarily on the duties for your role. No management tasks, no evangelism, none of the corporate bullshit. Just your work. I am serious block it off in your calendar if you need to. Remind yourself why you chose this field in the first place. Get back to your roots, and reignite that passion.
If you are struggling with how to get this to work, you can also consider reaching out to other people in your professional community about how they are doing it. What processes/tricks could you implement yourself to help with this. If you can’t find anything (which I doubt) try brainstorming with those people. The more minds you can get together, the better the outcome. And just think of how many people you can also help do this.
2. Dealing with fuzzy metrics
As a UX Designer, our biggest buzzword is empathy. We are constantly empathizing with our users and trying to eliminate their pain points. It is what I would call a fuzzy metric. These can be really hard to advocate for because it is really hard to measure them in terms of ROI, KPI, etc. This makes most execs. less likely to listen to you and your fuzzy metrics because they are more focused on the yearly/quarterly goals and how they are making the money. They are focused on the business and not necessarily your fuzzy metrics. Meaning they don’t want to “waste” resources on a department that doesn’t produce anything “useful”.
Solution: Learn to address your metrics with their language. Try to master the company’s business and key goals. Learn their language and you can present your work to them better. If you only speak in terms of empathy, or any of these other fuzzy metrics, you are automatically limiting your ability to innovate. Don’t buy into the idea that you have to stay in your lane, learn how to drive in both.
I have heard some people say that it is hard to find these things, that the executives are very protective of certain information. If that is the case, run…very far and very fast. However, if that is not an option, try to make friends with the data and analytics teams. While they might not be able to share as much they should be able to provide information to get you started.
3. Your work has a short lifecycle
One of the biggest pitfalls we land in as a team of one is this. We spend so much time trying to produce quality deliverables that we forget about the big picture. We typically rush from one project to another without considering our overall impact. But we forget that what seems immediate isn’t always paramount. Being a team of one, our biggest goal should be elevating the understanding between our coworkers. This does play into dysfunction 1 but this is more about collaboration than evangelizing.
Solution: Socialize the work. Talk to other people, show them what you do and why it matters, especially in their terms. Can you make connections to things they are doing/using? Can you show them how your role impacts theirs and vice versa? Can you make them understand what it is you actually do? Learn how your audience interprets/digests information and present it to them on their level.
“Try not to release one perfect deliverable at a time, nurture the work itself.” — Roy Opata
4. Being a team of one is lonely
“Being alone isn’t the worst thing, the worst thing is feeling alone while with others”
Maybe you are the only designer on a team of developers. Maybe you are the only sales representative in a start up. Maybe you are the only person who is doing what you do in your company. If so this applies to you. Being a team of one is lonely, even if you are surrounded by a bigger team. Without a co-conspirator you can lose sight of your impact and talents. You can start to doubt yourself and your approaches because you don’t have any positive input (at least from people who have any technical knowledge of your field). It can feel a lot like imposter syndrome, because it is! You have no way to track your skills so it becomes hard to see them. You have no critics so it is hard to improve. You have nobody who can appreciate your actual value.
Solution: Do whatever it takes to get out of your company bubble and into the community. Make friends in a professional community, outside of work. Reach out to leaders in your field for advice. Attend events. Don’t ignore/walk away from the problems/feelings you are having. I guarantee they won’t be solved that way. Trust that there are people going through the exact same thing and they want help just as much as you do.
5. Time is your worst enemy
You are by yourself, you are trying to advocate your role as well as prove you are worthy of it. Because of this is you can start to try and take on everything people ask of you. You start to believe that helping other departments or team members will make them appreciate you better. However, taking on everything leads to producing lower quality work. Most of us imagine the quality of work we want to be doing, and wish we could be doing. But typically this isn’t achievable because there is too much of it.
Solution: Make the tough decisions about where you work to make better priorities. Stop trying to take on everything to make a bigger impact. Default to saying “No.” Spend 2–3 hours each week prioritizing 2–3 main goals. Any more than 3 will lead to crap work, so try to cap it there. Once you have these you can weigh any future tasks that might come up against them. They don’t have to be set in stone, they can shift, but you need to be aware of the shift and consciously decide if it should happen. If management asks for more, talk to them. Explain your priorities and ask for their input on what to shift. This gives them a chance to evaluate the importance of it themselves and make that decision for you.
Bonus: Your manager knows nothing about your role
“Authority doesn’t mean expertise.” — Roy
Remember that you are the expert. Just because they are in charge does not mean that the know more than you do. Prioritize a shared understanding of what you do and don’t do. It is your job to educate them, because if you don’t it is only going to affect you.
In conclusion, try to do these things to avoid being a dysfunctional team of 1.
- Set aside 1 full day to work on your actual job. No corporate bullshit.
- Learn the company’s language and relate it to your work.
- Make friends with the data and analytics teams.
- Socialize your work.
- Connect with an outside community. Find new resources.
- Prioritize 2–3 things each week
- Educate your managers
I hope you find this article helpful. Let me know if you have any other solutions or dysfunctions you can think of. I would love to hear from you!