Upskilling Your Team: One Peer At A Time


Upskilling Your Team: One Peer At A Time

Enabling the Team

Part of the success of a cross-functional team is the ability of each member to be T-Shaped. But how can you encourage continued up-skilling when your business is scaling.
In Seccl, Amy has established Skills Exchange Session, a peer-to-peer learning scheme that is free, valuable and empowers your teams. In this session, Amy will touch on:

  • The successes of peer to peer learning;
  • The challenges of this type of learning; and
  • How you can enable these sessions in your own workplace

My name is Amy Lobe and I am a Product Designer with about 12 years’ experience. I am super passionate about accessibility, user experience, and sometimes even design.

In a past life, I have created websites, poorly, worked in video, and even being a business analyst for a huge e-commerce CRM. Today, I want to talk to you about continuous learning. Why you should keep it up throughout your career. I'll take you through one method I found that works, why I think it works and how you can do it yourself.

But first, some background about myself. This is a snippet of one of the assessments I underwent to figure out why I was struggling so much at university. My A-levels have been a bit of a disaster compared to the rest of my academic record and it turns out I'm dyspraxic and like so many people I had gone undiagnosed until I was an adult. So, for quite a few years, I really shyed away from learning.

I worked for Seccl. We're a business-to-business financial technology scale-up. And you can say that a few times put the official jargon on the screen for you there.

Here were a few of us when we got some new hoodies. I like to teach this lot and the rest, anything I know that they want to know.

Learning is for life and this brings me to the main point of my talk today. We continuously learn actively or passively the skills to perform your day job are going to change throughout the years. As an engineer, you're likely to pick up several new coding and scripting languages in your working life. If you're good at your job, that's enough for you to stay employed. But what about collaboration? How do you contribute to design sprints? Do you have the knowledge needed to design and build the best product?

Get comfortable with this slide. We'll be here a while. I'd like to take you through the metaphor of the jar of life.

A professor stands in front of the students and has an empty jar and some rocks. They place the rocks into the jar and then asked the students is the jar full. The students look at the jar. "Yes, it looks full." So, the professor pulls out a bag of pebbles and pulls those pebbles into the jar and asked the same question. Are the jar full students? Students look at the jar again. "Yeah, of course it's full now." So, the professor pulls out some sand and start spooning that sand into the jar and ask the same question again. "Yes", the students reply. "The jar is full." The professor explains that this is a metaphor for getting anything sorted in your life. Take care of the big things first and then the little things will fill in around the side and fulfilled. Finally, the professor takes his mug of coffee and pulls that coffee into the jar and says, "There's always time for coffee with a friend."

And so, if we look at that, and then we look at the skills for a job, I've got some of the jobs spec for an engineer here from Seccl, quite a recent job description and this is a great starting point. They may even feel like they've got a full suite of knowledge and tools to get their job done, but having some additional skills is really going to make them fantastic at their job.

If they know their way around accessibility and understand the guidelines, if they can contribute to research methods for architecture at the start of a project, it's going to be so good. If they understand how to use space in design, they can work out that padding when the secretly slipping in some code at 9:00 PM at night, and there are no designers online. If they know how to phrase great questions, they'll be able to contribute to any sort of user research like usability testing or even if they understand the where on typography, they can just get things right straight away.

So, what's the point? You work with some fantastic experts; they know their stuff but have you ever worked in a team for the T-shaped employee? T-shaped team members is no new thing. I remember learning about it when I first started working in cross-functional teams, it's a shortcut to fantastic collaboration. It's a shortcut to super speed, for me as a designer it means I can talk about giving more space to some page elements and the engineer is molding alone with me instead of preparing to challenge me. As the researcher, it means that they can bring an engineer along to a customer discovery call and not only is the engineer going to get fantastic insights, they're also going to be able to ask questions in a really constructive manner. For the engineers, it means that they can talk about containers and structures of the page, and they'll know that the rest of the team are going to get it. It means they'll be able to push back on some new design elements and i'll know and understand and be able to start thinking about better ways to design for our build and I really don't know much code. That top bar of the T represents only a small chunk of knowledge about the other skillsets, but it really smooths things out and makes things go faster.

I have always enjoyed sharing my skills. And it's probably when I'm at my best, it definitely comes from my upbringing. I'm the only one in my family who isn't a teacher. When I started working in a corporate environment, I realised that if I learned on the job or from people I worked with, it was really inspiring and it definitely stuck. Learning from a book, or course that involves lots of reading, just doesn't work for me and I know a lot of people like me exist.

We've been raised to learn in a classroom like setting, and that may not work for every topic or for every person, but it can form an important part of learning a new skill. I personally learn really well by doing something. So, I thought I'd see if other people felt the same.

We ask our teams how they'd like to learn. And it turns out being taught by an in-house expert ranks really highly in their mind. So, I gave it a go. I've been running many skills exchange sessions to anyone who wants to come along and judging by the length of my hair, I've been at it a while. At Seccl, we have a learning club in which we share what we know and I take things a step further and, in my sessions, we have activities to do. Take a step back to school and the usability testing session, you're going to be set against the other half of the group to find out whose chosen website performs the best. I take the group through what usability testing is when it can be used, the positives and negatives, hello price point, how to write a script. We run the little taster and during that taster, they learn how to write notes during usability testing and then we write a mini report afterwards. For architecture, we do similar type of thing, but you bet that group are going to be experts in running card sorts to gather data to find how to organise their bags.

So, does it actually work? Put my researcher hat on and got some data to find out what is the point of me spending time in my working day and taking several other people's time as well. Prior to running any of the sessions, we asked all the squads what their competence was in user experience and user experience design in general. Turns out their confidence was pretty low. They rated themselves an average of three. We had a few other questions that gave us some useful insight. For example, we outlined a task and ask them how confident they would feel in completing that task. Just so we could be sure that the school was true. Whereas today, we now write ourselves a five out of seven. The T-shaped teams tends to work. No one has to be an expert in everything. So, our squads now rating themselves as much more confident is already showing amazing results. We've been hitting those sweet spots. We've been asking the right questions during solution design, raising the right issues. And the collaboration is just sparking off each other in squads. Incidentally, we've been doing the same type of thing for accessibility, and we've seen the same trend. It's really working.

I thought this is the time for me to share some of my top tips on how to share your skills. Don't be too polished. These people are your peers and in fact it might be best to prepare as little as possible for your session. Four bullet points about the topic you want to cover. The what, the why, the how, and the when are going to get you started are really great lesson plan.

Please don't be nervous. If you are a little nervous, try some reverse psychology on yourself. After all, you've never turned up to a session to learn something new because you didn't want to, unless perhaps you've been on a speed awareness course recently.

Do share something you are passionate about. I'm really passionate about user experience and not only can I talk about it for ages, even if there is a question, I don't know the answer to, I can talk about how are we going to find the answer out.

Please give tasks or exercises include a little practical nature to the session you're running. Many of us learn so well from actually doing something from conducting a mini card sort about the contents of your bag to using screen reading software for the first time. Plus, there'll be able to ask questions as they go along.

Do keep sessions relatively short. I tend to schedule about 45 minutes for a session in which there will be a practical exercise. So, these sessions can be fine tune to your industry. I've mostly talked about sharing user experience. So, we have industry experts in Seccl. I work in a financial technology company. Of course, I'm going to learn all sorts about the finance world. These sessions come from working experts, the people sharing their skills are actively working and innovating in that space. The skills that they're sharing up-to-date of the minutes.

My favorite point about these sessions is they are free. If you find the time to allow this in your working day, there are no other costs associated with this. They are always going to foster great networks in your company. In past jobs and in my current job, I have been able to make fantastic connections that allow me to fast track a lot of the questions I need to get my work done. Of course, we're going to improve the performance of your teamwork with those T-shaped employees. It's one of the main points of doing these sessions. And then lastly, you're going to feel really great about yourself when you share those skills, going to get that post giving glow.

So, please do give it a go, share something new today and I'm sure your colleagues and peers will thank you.

Thank you very much.