Skip to content

System thinking, endurance and team culture

Understanding the design system as a concept is easy, but actually making it work requires effort. It isn't necessarily the system itself that's demanding, but all of the processes surrounding it sure are. Explaining the system in different forums creates awareness, but the real magic happens when people actually make use of the system.

1. Intro

The team who is responsible for Gjensidige's design system (Team Builders) works hard to make the system easy, relevant and accessible for its users. These don't only represent different disciplines, but also different countries with different languages. Implementing a new identity in digital solutions through the design system has proved a real challenge and a long process.

Discussions have stretched from colours, typography and assets to the specific user needs within different digital solutions across Nordic countries.

The real performance for us, as a team working on making NCI accessible for the whole digital sphere of our organisation, is therefore not just the result that now can be viewed and observed. The solutions published these days might be evaluated as good or bad based on preferences. The performance on the other hand, might be measured on improved universal design, faster load time, frequent deployments and so on.

This article will not focus on the performance of the solutions, but on the team making NCI releases possible for digital solutions.

2. System thinking

150 applications, 20 product teams, 14 million visitors

In Gjensidige we have roughly 150 applications that our customers in Norway, Denmark and Sweden can interact with, and the amount of solutions and teams is increasing. Today there are 20 product teams responsible for various applications.

In addition to applications, there are open webpages built in the CMS, where the Gjensidige brand is available for the audience 24/7. This is the digital doorway for people to browse insurance or pension before they decide to become a customer or log in to our solutions as existing customers. Our websites in Norway, Sweden and Denmark have approximately 14 million visitors per year. They are essential to make sure that our brand stands out and is recognised as Gjensidige.

A part of the division Technology & Insight's strategy towards 2025 is to take more responsibility for our digital operations in-house. That means we are hosting our solutions as well as developing them. Team Builders is not only responsible for the design system, that both we and the other product teams use, but also for the open pages and the CMS.

Creating a design system is not just design 

Creating systems that a lot of people rely on is demanding and motivating at the same time. Developing new solutions within them (such as a new identity) is no small task. Implementing visual elements on websites requires knowledge of digital user needs, accessible technology and time – but most of all a specific mindset.

This mindset is understanding that we are creating a holistic system with logic – not just features that is designed on flat sketches. We must foresee the consequences and impact the tiniest of changes might have on the solutions our colleagues rely on and make use of.

A core capability in Team Builders is to obtain such system-thinking. We do this by collaborating and discussing across all the disciplines within the team. Developers, designers and content designers challenge and discuss issues together to find the best solutions. We are transparent in all the tasks the team is addressed on, or those we address ourselves. As tasks are discussed, we aim to include input from our different disciplines to create solutions that are sustainable for the system.

3. Objectives and endurance

Even with such a mindset, we (as everybody else) are short on time. We therefore create objectives with deadlines – mostly for ourselves, but also to communicate the status to those waiting for our decisions and solutions.

The way we are working is always up for evaluation and the team takes an active part in improving the way we work. Working with difficult topics such as NCI, the team has shown endurance and created more efficient ways of working.

Endurance is a skill we need to reach difficult objectives, and it can be trained. By nature, tasks are hardest to solve when you have never done them before. By practicing the same task over and over, you start doing them on repeat rather thinking in a new way. If you try to complete several tasks at once, you won't be able to complete one of them brilliantly. When you're working towards an objective that is inspiring, but not overwhelming, it's easier to prioritise the tasks that secure progress.

During the NCI process, Team Builders has improved the flow for all ongoing and upcoming tasks, training to become more efficient. These are some examples of what they've done to change our way of working, enabling us to perform better:

  • We went from having 5 or more to just 1 objective each quarter
  • We improved our taskflow, putting all tasks (from design ideation until deployed to production) in Github issues. Previously we had separate taskflows for design and development
  • We cancelled standup-sessions that were divided into disciplines (design, content design and development). Instead we ran one standup per week with the whole team.

Our way of working is always up for evaluation: All team members actively improve the way we work.

4. Team culture

The culture within teams is most likely related to the performance of both the team and individuals in it. A blooming culture is not created overnight – it needs to be worked on. This is not only the responsibility of leaders, but also the team members. As individuals, we have influence on others, and certain types of people might have high influence - both in a positive and negative manner.

A powerful motivation to achieve objectives

The culture in Team Builders reflects the individuals onboard. In addition to system-thinking and endurance, the team members who are able to make decisions and to create solutions continuously successfully seems to have grit.

Grit is a powerful motivation that helps us achieve our objectives. This grit is important, because people constantly evaluate our work, want to influence our decisions, and ask for progress. With grit, Team Builders is able to perform, even though pressure is high and discussions occur frequently. From day one, I experienced a team passionated in their work, despite distractions and obstacles, which has been important for their performance throughout the time working with NCI.

History versus future 

I often think about the responsibility of the solutions and culture in Team Builders. This is because it's a heritage from many years of dedication, with representatives from all three disciplines in Digitalisation and design; development, design and content.

It is with respect for the heritage and the boldness to drive changes, that Team Builders will lead the way forward, both with solutions and people who perform.