Building a high-performing design team

4 min readApr 12, 2023

Julia Bouverat, Zone’s Senior Product Designer, shares her strategic approach in developing a high-performing design team by defining values and objectives.

Our journey to defining objectives and values

As a newly appointed project Design Lead, my goal is to promote psychological safety and to help motivate and encourage productivity within our team.

I believe that defining team objectives and values, as well as creating a healthy and enjoyable working environment, is essential in achieving this goal; this is why I organised a series of workshops that would help us do exactly that.

But before we began shaping our design team objectives, I led the team in creating their own ‘baseball cards’ based on the trading cards that show a player’s achievements and statistics.

Baseball cards for team development

Using baseball cards in team development is a simple and effective way to share strengths, demonstrate what we can teach others and reveal what we want to learn more about. Being open and sharing details of our background builds trust. It helps us support one another and do our best work — together.

You can collect the data using Google Docs, Google Slides or, but as designers, we used Figma.

The format my team used was:

In my free time I…

I can teach others…

I want to learn more about…

My background…

I’m from…

I’ve lived in…

Defining Team Values

To begin defining our values, I led the team through a Collect, Choose and Commit (CCC) exercise.

I discovered CCC from AJ&Smart, a design company in Berlin with fantastic resources in facilitation. Using CCC for a values-definition exercise allows the team to collect potential team values, prioritising the ones they feel strongly about and then committing to 4–5 core values. Creating too many values dilutes their impact and can be easily forgotten.

Our design team values:

· Collaboration is key, so we work together to achieve our goals

· We stay current by attending design events and being curious

· We embrace feedback and always look for ways to improve our designs

· We separate ourselves from our designs — if it sucks, it sucks, not us!

· We embrace the unknown, which means that we are always willing to try new things and take risks

A few principles for doing our best work:

· We are never afraid to ask questions

· We give each other recognition and praise

· We have a growth mindset

· We drive craft standards, best practices and UX laws

Staying healthy and having fun at work

· We hold a weekly office day for whiteboard/collaboration sessions with the team

· We practise empathy by prioritising well-being for ourselves

· We take breaks from screens

· We prioritise 1–1s that aren’t just about work

Defining team objectives

To collaboratively define design team objectives, we brainstormed potential objectives, prioritised the ones we felt would have the biggest impact, and created a shortlist.

We agreed on the following objectives:

· Integrate measurement and metrics-thinking early in the process

· Improve the workflow between design and development to save time

· Pay it forward to get recognition

Turning Objectives into Tangible SMART Objectives

I knew that turning our objectives into tangible and SMART objectives would be the hard part — going from ‘this sounds nice’ to defining what success actually looks like. OKRs are an obvious method, but I wanted to make it more specific and draw inspiration from potential role models. I drafted the format below and each team member had a go at defining one objective. We then presented it back and refined it as a team.

Why: why is this our objective?

Specifically: what is the objective? What’s the one thing it defines and what’s the result we are looking for?

Measurable: put a number against it

Achievable: what needs to be true for it to be achievable?

Role model: who has done this before and smashed it?

Time: what’s the deadline?

Weekly habit cadence: how will it be followed up?

Owner: who should be the go-to person driving this objective forward (with support from the rest of the team)

Documenting and tracking

Finally, we agreed to keep everything in one place on Notion to document and track our progress towards our objectives. The tasks associated with objectives form a roadmap with assigned owners, and we have regular check-ins to ensure team members are accountable for their tasks. Our design team values and objectives are shared across other teams, promoting a culture of transparency and accountability.

Final thoughts and takeaways

Creating a high-performing design team requires more than just individual talent; it requires collaboration, shared values, a healthy work environment and clear and achievable goals.

By using the methods above, we were able to define our team’s values and objectives and create a roadmap for achieving our goals.

And one final thing we would pass on to other teams, remember not to stretch yourself too thinly. Focus on what is essential, and define your ‘one thing’ to achieve success for a specific design team Objective.




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