Managing your Design Team

Efficient strategies for leading a productive design team.

5 Life Lessons from Napoleon for Effective Leadership

In my previous article Hiring for a Great Design Team, we read how hiring is the most important part of your job as a Design Leader. In this article, we’ll talk about another equally important part of your job i.e. managing the careers of your team members.

Some of the best managers I know are not bosses – they do not wield authority. They are constantly serving to help others. This is essentially important because your behaviour is also setting up an example for your team and its culture.

Let’s look at a few ways how you can effectively manage your design team.

1-On-1 Meetings

While 1-on-1 meetings are a great way for managers and their direct reports to connect individually, try connecting to your indirect reports as well. Having a large team may become a hindrance here, but trying to connect with every member of your team helps develop strong relationships and ensures that everyone feels empowered working towards their goals. These do not need to be work update meetings, rather an opportunity to give regular feedback.

Feedback should not be unidirectional but should flow both ways. I make it a point to get feedback about myself and how I could do better to help them with their career goals. This is effective because it creates honesty in the conversation and gives me insight into a designer’s emotional state.

Ask these type of questions in your 1-on-1s:

Positives: Let’s hear all the great things you have to say about your experience in this organisation. It could be task-related, team-related, workplace-related, culture-related, basically just about anything from the time you step into the office.

Improvements: Where do you think we need improvements in our process, our culture and as a collective Design Team? How can I help here?

Manager Improvement: Do you have any feedback for me? What could I do more to make your work easier?


As a Design Leader, you are going to be always busy. As you focus on pushing projects forward and running your team, don’t forget that designers need to be appreciated too. Saying “thank you” to each member of your team should be a habit.

You could appreciate in your 1-on-1s or collectively in your All Hands Meetings as well. Remember, everyone needs to hear it individually and as a team.

Introducing new Management Layers

As your design team grows, you will realise that you no longer have time to oversee every designer’s work. You will need to introduce additional layers of management to run your team efficiently.

Identify a prospective manager but assign them just one direct report and see how they perform. If they tend to favour mostly doing design work and less of management, then you have the wrong person. While this may take time, don’t be in a hurry. It is important that you get the right person as they will be mirroring part of your responsibility for you.

If they perform well, slowly start adding more designers to their team and start removing design tasks from their to-do lists. This will ensure a healthy balance of management and design work.

Resolving Conflicts

Conflict is unavoidable and uncomfortable. When conflicts arise, confront them early on to maintain the health of your team.

Your 1-on-1s are great opportunities to understand upcoming conflicts before they even arise. Once you’ve identified a conflict, speak to each party involved separately, and then get them in the same room to have an honest conversation.

Don’t complicate matters with second-hand information, as you could end up making the situation worse. And don’t conclude the meeting without paving the way for a solution.


Most Leaders are not passionate about management, which is justified. However, turns out, it is a very important part of your day-to-day work. As a Design Leader, you will help designers do great work and develop fulfilling careers, which will have a profound influence on your organisation.

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