Three Things Successful Internal Design Teams Do Well


Three Things Successful Internal Design Teams Do Well

November 3, 2020

Over the last decade, many companies have acquired or built in-house customer experience design teams. The mandate of these new teams often includes bringing user-centered design skills and approaches to the development of digital and non-digital experiences. However, many of these teams start out under-resourced and facing resistance from internal stakeholders due to years of institutional biases

As a consultant fortunate enough to see five different teams launch at three financial institutions and two telecom companies, I have noticed that there are three things successful design teams have in common. I wanted to share these lessons with you so that you can start out on the right foot and set your internal design team up for success.

1. Triage: Maximize the Resources You Have by Deciding the Work You Will Not Do 

When you establish an internal design team in almost any organization, you typically start out with limited resources and a short timeframe in which to prove your team’s value. In most cases you will also come up against a bunch of sceptics that expect you to fail, along with pockets of pent-up demand wanting access to services. It is therefore crucial that you maximize your efficiency early on by determining the types of projects that need your specific skills versus the projects that just need more manpower to help. For example, a project that is about optimizing a process and does not engage users is probably not a good project for a newly formed design team. Define the situations that make your service the most effective and use those characteristics to filter the work that comes in the door to ensure you can develop a culture of success in the new team.  

2. Define Success: Know What Success Looks Like Before You Start 

It’s never too early to think about what you need to measure to prove success. If an internal partner can’t help you document and provide evidence of success, they may not be a good fit for your early projects. Testimonials alone are not enough and they diminish in value quickly – it is always better to back up testimonials with metrics. However, collecting the right metrics requires time, effort, and sometimes building new processes, so it’s important to choose partners for your early projects that already have the right pieces in place or are willing to build them.  

One of the most rigorous approaches that I observed was with a Telecom client. The Customer Experience Management team collected all of the customer, operational and financial metrics tracked by the different departments in a single sheet. This resulted in a list of 100+ metrics. The team then distilled the list to five metrics that they would be involved in improving. Before taking on any project, the new design team needed to know the current state of the targeted metrics, then they could work with teams to track the relevant metrics for each project. Over time, they were able to point directly to the impact of work completed by the team.  

3. Behaviour Change: Know How Change Takes Place at Your Company and Make Yourself Part of the Change Cycle 

There are many different ways to create change in an organization. If you plan to lead from the top then it is important to work with your executive sponsors and business champions to get the right messages and communications flowing. It is also vital to consider the governance structures that will support growth. 

If direction is heavily influenced by the front lines, make sure team members are collaborating and engaging with front line workers. Make investments in community-building including skill-sharing and training to help others understand.  

An example here, is a client that wanted to lead change from the top. The client wanted customer concerns to be a driving force for investment and they built specific questions into the project approval process about customer needs, goals and pains. In this way, it forced departments to find ways either internally or externally to answer these questions driving new processes and a new customer centric mentality into the organization. This resulted in a lot of interest in the design teams tools, techniques and knowledge. Once you have an understanding of the dynamics of how change works at your organization, you can position your design team as the facilitators and/or drivers of change.

Starting an entirely new team in an already-established organization is never easy, but if you keep these tips in mind, I am confident you can build an internal design team that can effectively and efficiently work with both external customers and internal client teams to drive success.  

Photo by Alasdair Elmes on Unsplash


  • Everton Lewis approaches business problems using a perspective that combines design, analytics, and technology. He has guided clients during several large-scale business and technology transformations establishing himself as a trusted advisor. He has an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business and has lead project teams that have won global awards from the Service Design Network and Fast Company for innovative design.


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