Get Over Yourself: Being Open to Challenge

To be a good design leader, encourage your team to challenge your decisions

Alex Jones
Modus
Published in
8 min readAug 9, 2019

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Photo: suedhang/Getty Images

OOver the last couple of years, I’ve had the privilege to lead a design team at a well-established SaaS company as we’ve built a whole new suite of products. During that time, our team more than tripled in size, with a combination of full-time employees and contractors spread across the U.S. and engineering teams located overseas. It’s been an exhilarating ride, to say the least.

At our peak, we had a well-balanced cadence of reviews and meetings, which helped us feed a large number of development teams while holding a high bar for usability and a cohesive experience.

Simply put, we had the right formula to meet high expectations amid furious growth.

As we wrapped up the initial push, the team shrank to about half of its peak size, yet we kept the same cadence of reviews and meetings. A problem emerged: What had helped smooth our way as a larger team was now a subtle source of friction.

And I’ll admit, I didn’t see it. The change was a gradual one, easily lost amid the day-to-day. Lucky for us, one of our more recent hires, frustrated with the status quo, challenged how we were working.

My initial reaction was a defensive one. I explained why we did what we did, feeling fully justified that our past decisions were right and there was no need to change.

Thankfully, he didn’t let it go, and the next time we talked about the same issues, the situation clicked into place for me: We were following practices that we had established for a different team in a different era of our product cycle.

Sure, that setup still basically worked, but only because we were putting in more effort than we realized to keep things moving forward. Once that sunk in, it was easy to let go of this familiar system and, as a team, lay out how we should work going forward.

This was a mixture of “aha!” and “duh!” moments. It taught me a critical lesson that I thought I already knew: True…

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Alex Jones
Modus
Writer for

I lead multi-disciplinary, globally distributed teams that craft remarkable products for millions of people. I start fires (the good kind).