Digital is really about people: what I’ve learned from working with the University of Bristol Digital Experience team

A guest post by Neil Gunn, Digital Delivery and Performance Consultant.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with the University’s in-house Digital Experience team since November 2022, to support them in a consultancy capacity to optimise their internal process and workflows, and make the most out of their limited resource.

On my last day with the team, I’ve paused to reflect on what I’ve learned about them and myself.

1. People are complex and fascinating

Part of my role has been to discover the challenges and blockers to each individual in the team doing the best work they can. That’s meant I’ve been able to spend time with each team member, to understand their characteristics, motivations and frustrations.

I often underestimate how interesting people are, and how relevant that make-up is to how they go about their work. What success feels like to them, and what gets in their way.

In future I’ll spend even more time getting to know the people, because it’s them that will make any project or consultancy period succeed or fail.

2. This team is more than the sum of its parts

You’re only as good as the people in your team, but working together is always better than striving on your own. It’s worth taking the time to understand how different people in a team work, to get the best out of everyone. The combination of talent and dedication in this team is really impressive.

They’re genuine experts in their fields of UX, research, user interface design, SEO, content design, intranet and website management, front-end coding and digital strategy.

Working separately on those things they’re pretty good, but working together, and with the right support, they create much improved experiences for the University’s website and intranet users.

3. There’s no IT in this team

It’s said a lot in digital circles, but there is a major distinction between IT teams and Digital teams. Both are hugely important, but it doesn’t help to lump them together.

Taking time to understand and explain who does what, and crucially who to speak to at what points in your engagement with technology, will really help get the results you’re looking for.

4. You can lead from the front, but you can be a leader from anywhere in a team

Energy and passion is absolutely required to lead a team and push them forward, especially in a complex organisation where a lot of important things happen outside the team that affect it, but are often incidental to its day-to-day work and function. Good team leaders protect their teams from the external politics and noise.

But there are other leaders in teams too. Those who lead with their calmness and approachability. Those who lead with their smart thinking about how to solve problems, those who lead by getting their heads down and working really hard to deliver, and those who lead by setting an example of empathy and caring for others and their wellbeing.

Those other types of leader are just as likely to be the more junior people in a team than the senior ones. You can lead from anywhere.

5. Don’t be afraid of awkward silences

Through my time working with the team, there have been a number of occasions where I could have led the conversation more, or filled a gap when there was no immediate response or suggestion. I’ve discovered that letting it be quiet for a few seconds is not a problem.

People take different approaches to thinking things through and making decisions, and sometimes you need to wait and let that happen. Very often, better suggestions and smarter thinking emerge.

6. Protect your energy

When working from home and separated from your team a lot, it’s really important to find ways to maintain your energy and enthusiasm levels. I started this consultancy without much thought to how I would do that, and without a decent routine to my days.

That, along with a lot of energy sapping initial induction and intro meetings, and a lot to learn about the University and the team, meant I was pretty drained after the first month.

Once I started to plan my weeks a bit better, with meetings more spaced out and focus time for work, as well as ensuring time for a good bit of exercise each day, and at least one day a week working in a cafe or shared working space for a bit of interaction with other people, I was much happier and more energised to deliver good work.

I’ve learnt a lot in my four months here, and hopefully helped the team move forward a bit. I think they’ve got all the talent, skill, leadership and energy they need.

Neil is off on an adventure for the next month, but is open to more contract consultancy work when he’s back. Check out Neil’s LinkedIn profile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *