How to use community-based structures to foster collaboration in the workplace

Launching any kind of community-based structures, for instance a thematic community, is a major investment for any organisation. What are the benefits?

At PwC Luxembourg, we are proud to host a vibrant UX Community. This is what this article is precisely about: telling you the story of why we did it, how we are doing it and why we consider it’s important for businesses to host thematic communities. 

This article has a little anecdote behind the scenes. Some UX Community members reached out to us with several communication ideas because they felt they needed to be more visible, considering that the work they are doing is worth sharing. They were (and are) fully right. 

The blog entry you’re reading is the result of a nice collaboration with Marion Massot, UX Experience Designer at our Experience Center

 
The inception of a UX Community

Once upon a time… happened the arrival of a new UX designer, Marion. 

Marion hates inertia. I like when things are going forward, with little obstacles or loss of time. That’s why I talked with my partner in crime, Sylvain Le Gac, about creating a space that could act like a UX toolbox and more, she told us when we asked her how PwC’s UX community was created.  

Then she added: Personally, I like to focus on the unification of productivity and creativity around human-centric processes. By aligning our vision, promoting knowledge sharing and coordinating better UX-related initiatives I thought we’d accentuate the added value that is to be a designer at PwC Luxembourg.

This initiative came at the right time because to Sylvain, who also had a similar idea, it’s always better to start together than alone.

Before the creation of the UX community, PwC designers were splitted into four different departments: IT, Experience Center, Advisory and Marketing & Communication. There wasn’t either a common entity or group, nor a common framework shared by all designers.

At the beginning, more than a year ago and already in times of COVID, UX talks between our designers started timidly but solidly, and Sylvain was the cornerstone for the launch and organisation. 

Projects don’t fail for technical reasons. They fail because of people

Rob Harr, Sparkbox Vice-President

The community has worked hard to bring designers together over the first year, strengthening collaboration and promoting design in the broadest sense. 

Annabelle B, community member puts it this way: I see this UX community as a place where we aim to collaborate with different teams to leverage on struggle and knowledge.

But… What does an organisation need to consider when creating thematic communities?

 
A step-by-step guide to create a thematic community in the workplace

The story of our community might be interesting, but we think the real added value for you is telling how we did it and what we have learnt down the road. Your organisation could bet on them too or, maybe, get some tips to improve the thematic communities that are already running.

 
TIP 1: Get your audience on board

By all means, setting up a thematic community means more than increasing the number of members. To us, it’s greatly about change and, more specifically, changing mindsets. 

However, change is never a one-off event at a given moment but a continuous process that takes place over time. Actors need to progressively apprehend “the new ways”, interiorise them and act consequently as a result. 

Let’s dive into change for a while. 

Kurt Lewin, American psycho-sociologist, defined a theory of change consisting of three phases based on the ice block model: unfreezing, moving and freezing which, in turn, is based on the bereavement processes of the American psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.

The first phase, unfreezing, calls for gradually changing existing habits. It is the moment when we’re motivated for change because we can no longer do as before. This is, following our own UX community story, the moment when Marion encountered Sylvain. He acted as a “gatekeeper” (word used by Lewin), i.e. the person or persons the change will have an effect on first. .

Therefore, distinguishing and analysing the desires, fears and expectations of your future community members is crucial. This will help to guide the rest of the project. 

For instance, our UX community collaborators mentioned:

  • The need to centralise
  • The need to unite each designers
  • The need to share
  • The need to homogenise
  • The need to optimise operational processes

Overall, in the beginning, the community will need to address this challenge: regrouping every designer of the firm on a common project that aims at fixing shared issues.

 
TIP 2: Define the support of your determination

The second point to consider when creating a community is to gather around a common motivation, namely, what the basis of your community would be.

We recommend this motivation to be structured around 4 elements:

  • Have a common shared vision, for instance, our UX community’s goal is to place humans at the center of all initiatives.
  • Be engaged for the same mission. Following our case example, they will do it by humanising complexity (applying system thinking to teams)- and engaging the firm in practicing human-centered design.
  • Be clear on your proposal. Our concrete action is to conduct bite-sized learning and development actions on UX related topics.
  • Define what the business value is for your firm. The UX community members want to minimise the risk of failure by identifying the real problem to be solved.

The alliance of all the design teams made it possible to build a concrete bridge between art and technology and to open up a systemic collaboration.

Being part of the UX Community is a real opportunity for me. I get to know many people from other services with various backgrounds and projects. While our job may be different, we realise sometimes that we face the same challenges, and that’s really reassuring. I know if I need some help, I can ask my fellow members for advice and we can collaborate together to find a solution. It’s really important to realise that we can count on each other. (Yasmine M.)

TIP 3: Focus on diversity

While the first key requisite to foster a thematic community in the workplace is, reasonably, share some interest or motivation in common, a second one, certainly unskippable, is to harvest the wealth of views and experiences. 

Indeed, each member of this community brings in a variety of ideas, perspectives, knowledge and skills that can significantly improve the community’s ability to thrive.

Taking, once again, our UX community as an example (and as a lab), its members worked on defining their main competences and profiles. This exercise was helpful to understand the potential diversified assets they could all bring. 

Here are the competencies they defined:
UX Researchers: their role is to understand market and client needs, conduct field studies and analyse data to turn them into valuable assets (study reports).

UX Designers: they create prototypes and take advantage of storytelling to build the case.

UI Designers: they are the “paint user interfaces”, creating and assuring visual consistency across projects

UX Strategists: they help business/clients to make strategic decisions, plan features between developers and business and follow team objectives and technical plans

 
TIP 4: Establish a routine

What started with the Apéro visio, organised by Sylvain in June 2020, as an informal video-powered exchange between designers has become a more structured community today. Sure, there is still more work to be done, but members are proud of how far they have come down the road. 

To get the community organised, it was necessary to define routines. And that’s precisely the fourth key advice we wanted to share with you. For instance, in the case of the UX community: 

  • There is one champion per department to manage the UX Community
  • Champions have weekly meetings to drive the UX Community
  • There is a system to declare the time spent working on the community, so it’s officially recognised at organisational level
  • They have created a repository drive for resource sharing

Furthermore, the community meetings have evolved into a more structured event called “the UX Talks”. They are held on a specific day of the month with a dedicated agenda with a main topic. 

Because information is key to any thematic community, our UX enthusiasts created a centralised repository with all resources for more effective knowledge sharing. Accessibility, naturally, is for all members. It’s full of slide-decks, survey research reports, graphic assets, documentation, and much more. 

COVID-19 also impacted the UX community activities, like it did for any other working group. But in truth, it helped to boost the use of some existing digital channels (chat, internal social media feed) they had been already using to communicate. Physical office meetings have happened but more sparsely, logically, but the plan is to keep them running when time allows it. 

Also, the community is connected to a Global Design Community that gathers similar PwC initiatives across the globe.

I love being part of a community where I can learn and share about the vast world of design. Whether it’s knowledge, resources, tools or questions … I know I have a place I can turn to when seeking help, or when I have something to contribute. For me, the UX community is a convivial space to geek, rejoice and even vent about the ins and outs of our activity. (Livier O. A.)

TIP 5: Work hard to keep it alive

Let’s return to the above-mentioned Lewin’s theory of change. The last stage is called freezing. 

This moment consists of reinforcing the new equilibrium reached in the community by introducing the new tools and methods to operate with. But, above all, by defining the new relationships between members (or actors). 

It is important to appoint a leader who will ensure the community is animated on a regular basis. This can be done by defining regular contact points and participating in information exchange. 

This person also should promote the use of community content, give space for each community member to blossom and to thank each person who nourishes the space.

Change Valley in the face of community creation
Change valley in the face of community creation (Click to enlarge the image)

For me, this community is like a child, and we are like its brain cells : the more it grows, the more it develops its knowledge and skills! Alone we are small, together we are great. (Manon)

 

Where the UX thematic community stands right now

And we have lived happily ever after, told us smiling Marion, who was a great collaborator to put this article together. Then she added a short for solid to-do lists. 

We have the strong desire to transform and evolve what is to be a designer in a community.

We plan to continue to evangelise design, to industrialise production and provide teams with assets and methods to avoid recreating them with each new project. 

We want to harmonise the overall experience for the user and strengthen the brand identity. 

We will deliver updates faster, more consistently, and with higher quality.

We are the explorers of the relationship between design practices and business performance. 

We are the spokesperson to promote the reuse, making projects more consistent, efficient, and accessible and giving us time to focus on new design and UX challenges.

And, with certain nuances and twists depending on each organisation, most verbs she has used above can be extrapolated to all thematic communities. Transform and evolve, evangelise, provide assets, harmonise experiences, deliver with quality, you name it.  

To us, our UX community is a strength and its influence in the field of design is having a positive impact locally and surely beyond. 

 

What we think
Sylvain Le Gac, Senior UX designer
Sylvain Le Gac, Senior UX designer at PwC Luxembourg

For me, the UX community exists to empower design and designers at PwC. Our community is a great source of knowledge, skills and personalities.

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