Strategies on how design managers can run effective one-on-one meetings

Today's guest for our interview series is Jordan Girman, Head of Design and Research at Glassdoor and mentor at RETHINK Coaching Through Crisis Program. Jordan has been leading teams at Glassdoor for over 3 years now where he is driving strategic design vision, perspective, and execution of Glassdoor's full product suite end-to-end, spanning consumer and employer facing products.

In this interview, Julie Stanescu - RETHINK founder talks with Jordan about tactics for how to be more effective in meetings, how to build a collaborative culture in teams that don't overlap, and how to help your team as a manager to feel more comfortable speaking up in large meetings and how to effectively support struggling designers without stepping in their way.

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Jordan welcome to our interview series! Can you tell us a bit about your background and the type of work you’re doing these days?

I have been designing and creating digital interaction for close to 20 years. I started in digital agencies like Critical Mass and then jumped on starting a UX agency.  From there I transitioned to video games working on sport franchises for Electronic Arts as well as eCommerce platforms for Mobify. 

Today I am driving the strategic design vision, perspective, and execution of Glassdoor's full product suite, spanning Consumer and Employer facing products. Leading the creative execution of the future product at Glassdoor as well as growing and guiding a full UX team of designers and researchers.

Curious how did you build a collaborative culture in teams that don't overlap? 

I have always approached building a design team from two different levels.

First is the work that we do and second is the organization and team we build for design. We are structured so that each designer owns an area of the product or experience and they are partnered with a PM and Engineering team. This means that we have a hub a spoke approach where each designer has two teams (product team and design team) that they work with.  

To ensure that the design team gets to collaborate and build our design culture we do a couple of things. First we meet often. Yearly we have a design off site where we have a post mortem for the year and plan out what we want to tackle for design in the upcoming. We have regular design team meetings (every 2 weeks) to work on design initiatives and communicate design ideas/issues that need to be worked through. In project work we will pair peer designers for reviews and partnership so designers can bounce ideas off other team members in real time.

Second we have a private slack channel that we inform each other on what we are working on (slack standup at 10am), ask questions about tackle needs and share interesting design and ideas. We also share a lot of gifs and generally joke around.  Slack is often where we celebrate wins, new team members etc as well.

What are some best practices you've tried that can help your team to feel more comfortable speaking up in large meetings?

There are ton of small things you can do in a meeting to allow the team to contribute, from calling out specific people to contribute, to having a talking stick to hand to specific people.

Create a safe environment for your team to speak.

One of the most important things you can do to help your more introverted team members is practice for those larger meetings. Providing safe meeting environments and discussions where people can more easily speak up and find their voice. Coaching team members to prep for those meetings with notes and bullet lists of points they want to get across. 

Ask, “why you?” before the meeting.

This is a question I recommend people ask before they craft a presentation, walk into a meeting, or even prepare for a networking event. It means, why do you care about what you do, about your organization, or about your role? Answering this question helps you connect with a sense of purpose and builds your confidence. It reminds you that you’re speaking up not to show off but because you truly care about the subject. It reminds you that your credibility doesn’t come solely from your title or years of experience but can also come from your commitment and passion. 

To help your team find their voice simply listen. 

This is something I have had to work on and when I first became a design leader I thought I had to contribute to every discussion and protect my team from stakeholders. Allowing your team to answer complex questions builds confidence and provides them with the empowerment they need.

How do you structure your regular 1:1 meetings to ensure you’re communicating effectively with your team? What worked and what didn’t?

Currently, I meet with my direct reports every two weeks and then we have specific project reviews that are scheduled depending on the project once per week. I really try to separate work and project discussions from career and development meetings. To that end the 1:1 meetings are about them. Everything else is about work. 

Before I did this most 1:1 meetings would just be about work and we would often avoid the hard discussions about goals and growth. Focusing on time for both is really important. At the same time I am open for any of my team to schedule meetings with me anytime regardless if I am their direct manager or not. 


What do you add on your 1-1 agenda as a manager?

I personally set up my 1:1s as their time to communicate with me. To that end I expect my reports to provide the agenda and allow them to bring up any issues of needs as well as talk about goals. For the most part we attempt to keep the discussion about them and their career or personal needs and try to avoid status updates on projects.

What are your best practices for organizing notes after the meetings?

One thing we have started after reviews of work we send the feedback to the stakeholders and they have to label each note with a tag that states the intent behind the feedback (green = just thinking out loud, yellow = just a question or idea, red = must be actioned on). This really saves time for the teams and clearly states what they need to work through for the next review.

How do you effectively support struggling designers without stepping in their way?

This is a really hard question to answer because often struggling designers have specific issues to their situation and the work they are doing.

On that end I feel we evaluate the needs of every issue and tackle it based on those specific needs. I will say that each designer on our team is beholden to their own plan for success. We do goal setting documentation that outlines where they want their career to go, what skills they want to work on and what they want to accomplish at Glassdoor. They also outline, with their manager, how they are going to tackle these items with a tactical plan with dates and expectations. This allows the leadership to ensure they are working on projects that keep them engaged. This really helps to ensure that we are getting our designers working on the right things for them and the product hopefully prevents under performance.

Often ensuring that support is provided by peers helps showcase approaches or direction. Peers can include other designers in a similar area or PM partners or engineers who are currently working closely with that designer. This makes it feel more part of the work than an outside manager lording over their shoulder. From there it's clear and achievable goals or touch points that need to be hit. But really we look at each case separately and build from there. 


Contributors
Jordan Girman
Sr. Director of UX, Glassdoor
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