Share & Care: How We Push Each Other To Improve

In our distributed workplace, EightShapes staff don’t always work side-by-side, eliminating the serendipitous exposure to each other’s work. Therefore, on the first Friday of every month, we get together to share recent work for three hours of presentation and feedback cycles. We call it Share & Care.

How It Works

Share & Care usually plays out like this:

  1. Get on the Docket
    Leading up to the Friday, we’ll send out a “Share & Care Docket” so individuals can sign up for a long form (15 minutes) or short form (6-8 minutes) slots with a topic of interest: usually the output of an project.

    Share & Care Docket

  2. Prepare Artifacts (strongly recommended)
    Presenters are encouraged to prepare a few artifacts to focus their discussion. Sometimes a PDF project deliverable can suffice, but that can lead to meandering project “contextualizing” (and occasional heckling). Prepared slides almost always work better.
  3. Long Form Sessions
    Long form means 15 minutes, and we do no more than three or four. The standard format is 8-9 minute presentation followed by 6 minutes of critique and discussion. Using a structure is important, and that one works for us. In fact, two this month were micro-sketching studios: 2 minute intro, 5-6 minutes of sketching (one was a analysis report exec summary page, the other a concept model of an experience life cycle), 30sec lightning-fast presentations by each person, and a quick closing discussion.
  4. The Break
    We usually run 10 minutes late or more as long forms conclude. Afterwards, we try to take a “quick 5 minute break” that always stretches to 15 minutes as people chat and brainstorm.
  5. Short Form Sessions
    Short form sessions comprise a 3 minute presentation followed by 4 to 6 minutes of discussion. The limited time forces you to communicate a core idea and then sit back (and shut up) so others can react and feed you with ideas.

What We Talk About

Share & Care topics can be anything that makes us better designers:

  • Investigate a key behavior, page design, or content challenge
  • Obtain feedback on design communications like flows, maps, models, and annotations
  • Plan how to work efficiently (think “Leah Buley’s UX Team of One”), work together, and work with design managers
  • Geek out on tools like how to automate status icons in document tables or expert review finding displays
  • Philosophize on design principles and patterns, such as Facebook’s Like or usability severity scales
  • Brainstorm on topics for writing, presenting, creating posters and areas of mutual interest

How We Make It Work

Respect the Timekeeper
Share and care is successful when presenters stick to one idea and focus on where they need feedback. Enforcing time limits stinks, but Share & Care bogs down otherwise. Respect the time of prepared presenters and critics with good things to say by keeping sessions on time and silencing blowhards on a soapbox.

Encourage Participation
Great design depends on your ability to communicate ideas–your own or a reaction to someone else’s. You stagnate by sitting there silently in a corner. Such encouragement comes not just during Share & Care, but any time a good topic bubbles up in our conversations.

Limit Clarifications
Feedback must not be drowned out be continued clarification of context, background, and pesky details. Sure, you can ask a quick question that demands a simple yes/no answer. However, do the presenter a favor and give feedback rather asking them about minutiae they already know. Presenters can help by starting with “What I want feedback on is…”

What We Learn

While typical project settings and team dynamics don’t require us to present and get feedback in just minutes, the Share & Care format provides a setting for us to be more creative and communicate better.

Over time, we get better at:

  • Defining, explicitly, what kind of feedback we want and need
  • Focusing descriptions on what matters most
  • Using pictures as a backdrop for storytelling
  • Complimenting and getting inspired by other’s work
  • Critiquing in a way that’s both safe but challenging
  • Getting less defensive about our ideas so that we can listen for all the creativity others can share

Continuing Conversations

Share & Care is self contained, but the conversations don’t end there.

We follow our monthly meet-ups with a team lunch. It’s a perfect place not just to wind down, but also dig deeper into topics that we couldn’t during the time-boxed cycles. This past month, we heatedly discussed the merits of Facebook’s “Like” feature, bridging from what you can’t do (retrieve them, categorize them) to what it does for you (connect you with others, subscribe you, enable you to participate in nearly synchronous conversation).

The end of Share & Care also signals other opportunities for more personal feedback too. As we walked out of last week’s, John approached me with “Can I give you some feedback?” to which I excitedly said “Sure!” He took a breath and then tactfully delivered “Pause on your periods.” Clearly, I’d fallen back into a known weakness: talking so fast that I disable my audience from processing anything at all. Ugh, but definitely a great reminder. It was the most important thing I learned that day.