In PDS we solve problems for a complex organisation: Parliament. Like most organisations, we try to invest in a strong culture and values. This is important and, like a lot of important things, it takes effort. It can mean the difference between doing meaningful work that's strategically aligned with the objectives of both Houses and user needs, or only responding to events as they happen and last-minute requests.
Positive, collaborative culture needs certain conditions. For the PDS content team, which has grown and changed in the three years since it came into being, here are the things that help us overcome problems together. Nothing on our list is new or groundbreaking, but we’ve found that these things need to be maintained so that content design, filmmaking, and social media are respected as disciplines here in PDS.
We’ve worked as a team to create a set of clear and strong content design principles and a mission statement that we can stand behind. If there are changing priorities in an organisation and you have strong guiding principles that relate to your day-to-day work, they can help keep you on the right path.
We make sure new joiners to the team understand what we as a team are trying to achieve. The content designers who work on Parliament’s digital channels follow the principles, which we’ve created to be agnostic to technology, platform, and organisational structure. This means our way of working will survive even when these other things change.
An open working environment
In an ideal world, your team would be shielded as much as possible from internal politics. Every organisation has silos and problems. It's no different here, and that can be tough. But when this starts affecting the everyday work of our content designers and social media experts, that's a problem.
For our team, good work means collaboration, open discussion and critique, and testing ideas. We share work and ideas in places free from personal agendas and hierarchy: our Slack review channels; content crits; and team meetings. Maintaining a culture of sharing is important and has always been a priority for us.
Good people, different people
You can't create better content or better processes in a vacuum. Our team tries to work in a way that means no-one is alone. That might mean a content designer working closely with a designer on a product team, a social media editor and graphic designer teaming up on a campaign, or the team leads putting their heads together to think about different ways of working.
Getting the right team dynamics is about having an inclusive environment where you're free to disagree and bounce ideas around. For that, you need people with different backgrounds and viewpoints to come together to tackle a problem and feel safe to challenge each other.
Respect for others' roles and skills
Having respect for your colleagues is paramount. When people care about the things they’re working on, disagreements will happen. As I said above, we don't believe everyone should agree all the time. That's not why we come to work. However, we all need to be considerate and respectful of the skills and experience in the room (and be open with each other when we feel boundaries have been crossed).
Team relationships are hard. Respect and trust is fostered with good team dialogue and proper engagement with what everyone is working on. If you don’t know what people do, invest time in trying to find out.
Time and space to understand the problem
Carving out time to really think deeply about a content problem or the needs of a specific audience can be hard. This is the area where our team has struggled most (and it’s probably one of the reasons many of us attended the session on mindfulness at the recent PDS care day). But over time - by working with other teams to explain what we can and can’t do for them - it’s got a bit easier to create space to think.
Deadlines and constraints are generally good for completing a project or task, but our team needs these to be realistic. To do a good job, we need to understand the users and context of the work and we often have to learn about new features and tools available to us. This means allowing time for proper discovery and experimentation. Don’t just hand us a piece of content that's already been through three levels of editing and sign-off and expect us to make it work.
Only when we’re fully aware of the problem can our skilled team properly contribute. We don't want to waste time suggesting improvements that will never be adopted, or designing an asset that won't help you meet your objectives. Bring a content designer on board early and you'll have someone dealing with the detail (diagnosing language problems, gaining domain knowledge, and contributing to research) from the start.
Reward isn’t just about money (although that’s still important). We've recently made some internal promotions within our team and made other roles permanent, which we should have done sooner.
Equally important is offering training and development opportunities. Parliament's a great place for continuous professional learning. We also try to take advantage of this strange place where we work to celebrate in more unusual ways: an expedition to the top of the Elizabeth Tower or visiting the vellum in the Parliamentary Archives, for example.
In short, when someone does good work, we tell them. We make an effort to credit them. If someone's ready for a new or bigger challenge, we give it to them. When someone seems like they need help, we offer it.