Back to Middle Matters

Kenneth & Saloni on Designing Team Growth

July 12, 2023

We talked to Kenneth Mark (Senior Design Manager) and Saloni Bhandari (Design Research Manager) from Jiva about their experiences in the dynamic field of design while designing the team’s growth

Exploring organic growth and career transitions

Hi Kenneth and Saloni! Can you share the story about how you ended up in your current role?

Kenneth: I think the transition to my current role was an organic growth. I was leading a team, and there was a need for someone to function as the team's manager. That's what led me to take up that role. During that transition, I realized that there were some skill sets that I had, which made me a good fit for a role like this. That's why I wanted to get into it and learn more.

When I joined Jiva, I decided to continue at the same level because I wanted to test, implement, and learn certain aspects of the role that I had not previously been able to work on. The previous role was in a slightly larger company where there were more processes in place and some tasks could be owned by someone else.

Here at Jiva, I have the opportunity to implement some of these things, such as setting up a team from scratch, creating the team's culture, and helping the team members grow. That's mainly the responsibility that I'm trying to fulfill right now: building the product design team and defining its culture.

Saloni: It hasn't been a very straightforward journey to where I am today. I come from an architecture background. Now, as a UX designer, I was introduced to research in the process and just fell in love with talking to people, learning about them, their challenges, and how they interact with the product. After that, I looked for opportunities that would enable me to continue doing this.

Jiva caught my attention two years ago when they were looking for a designer for an agricultural space. In Singapore, there is no agricultural land, which piqued my interest. What is this space all about? I joined the company when there were no defined roles, and we were just three designers.

Over a period of time, we have seen the team grow from just three designers to a team of over 24 people in the span of two years. It has been a period of hypergrowth. As a senior designer, my responsibilities include working with the design team and setting up the research vertical. Although I had not seen myself leading a team or managing people, being in a startup company pushed me to grow along with the company. That has been my journey of leading the team here.

Fostering growth through the team

What are some of the challenges in the design team?

Kenneth: I'm trying to use what I learned previously to help me do my job better. When I joined Jiva, I think there was only one product designer who had been part of the team. We had other designers on the team, but they were not experienced in product design. The last year has been focused on building a strong product design team in Indonesia and India.

Saloni: The teams are distributed across three countries: India, Indonesia, and Singapore. A big part of the challenge was learning how to communicate effectively across cultures. There were many questions for which I was seeking answers, such as: How do you set direction when you're part of a team? You have people with whom you have worked as peers, and now you're going to be leading them. What motivates them? How do you help them grow? How do you track their progress? At the end of the day, they're amazing and talented people, so what can I contribute to their growth?

Fresh ideas and mindset changes

How did Management Essentials help you along your journey?

Saloni: Kenneth, who had also taken the first course, suggested that as a new manager who needs to understand the available tools, meet people, and have conversations, you should consider joining NewCampus. It's a great way to gain understanding, build awareness, and acquire the necessary tools.

As soon as the opportunity arose, I seized it, took the course, and completed it. It was truly amazing to meet people and have those discussions. Some minor changes could also serve as a reminder when having conversations, such as how to bring clarity to the conversation, how to incorporate it into delegation, how to bring it up in one-on-ones, and what areas need improvement.

I think one of the biggest mindset changes that I had was from managing the team to leading the team.

I think one of the biggest mindset changes that I had was from managing the team to leading the team. A manager, as a term, is a person who gets into the nitty-gritty. But when you lead towards a goal or a vision, what is required is a team of high-performing individuals who don't need to be managed. They just need clarity in terms of where and what we need to achieve. So that was the big "aha" moment for me.

Delegation is simply the act of a manager assigning a task, but it is not enough to motivate the team. It is important to explain why the task is important and what we hope to achieve with it. By providing the necessary information, the team can perform at their best and feel comfortable suggesting alternative approaches if necessary.

That's been very interesting because it seems like new, fresh ideas come in from the team when they have this direction. The team has a lot of free rein to explore and discover, and they amaze me with the ideas they have. It's a learning moment for the team as well.

From resource planning to scaling culture

How about the learnings from Leadership Essential?

Kenneth: There were topics about scaling culture, observing trends, resource planning, and stakeholder buy-in. The idea that attracted me to this particular session was actually about stakeholder buy-in.

One of the learnings that I've already implemented is taking the time to reflect on the team's future.

One of the learnings that I've already implemented is taking the time to reflect on the team's future. The second thing that has happened in line with that is trying to delegate more tasks to other senior team members, scaling the culture to be more ownership-driven. These are two things I've implemented post-course as well.

These sessions were in line with the activities that I was actually doing in my day-to-day job. They helped me to take those examples and use them in this course through role-play sessions, gaining insight into what I was doing and how I could improve it.

For example, I remember during the resource planning session, we did an exercise where I discussed with my teammate how the team could be better balanced. When someone else critiqued the structure I was showing them, it gave me an understanding that would not have been easy to realize on my own.

In the end, I think I learned a lot from other aspects that I probably would not have considered as important. For example, the macro trend session. From there, I learned about how being aware of these micro trends would be something that I should do. Basically, taking time for myself to do this so that I am better prepared for the near future and can help the people on my team react to the changes happening in the industry.

The coaching sessions that came with Leadership Essentials were very helpful because they allowed me to have deeper conversations about topics that left me with more questions after the main sessions. I was able to delve deeper into the material. Having an extra half-hour coaching session to supplement the main Leadership Essentials sessions is a great idea because it really helps you get the most out of the course. Towards the end of the course, it felt like it ended too soon because we were just getting into the heart of the material and getting used to everyone, and I wished it could have been longer.

Implementing frameworks and sharing prioritisation

How have these frameworks been helpful to your other colleague?

Saloni: At the moment, Kenneth and I have been discussing things, and some of the tools he has built have been helpful for me. Kenneth has been very kind in sharing what he has put together.

Kenneth: With Management Essentials, I ended up creating a prioritization quadrant and added it as a template to our task management tool. The template allows you to categorize tasks as urgent and important, urgent but not important, not urgent and not important, or not urgent but important. Anyone can use it if they want to. If someone comes to me with a problem regarding their workload, I definitely introduce this framework as a way that they could use to manage their workload.

With Leadership Essentials, I believe it is mainly about having a conversation with my manager on how we can apply the learnings to our team.

For example, we wanted to use the 9-Box Grid to understand how our team is structured and how it will progress to the next level. It helps us consider how we should go about adding new people to the team and where we should add them, and so on.

Continue reading