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Finding your fit in a new product team

Joining a new company or a new team can be daunting; new people, new users, new acronyms 😱. It can occasionally feel like you are a bit of a loose part, and it will leave you craving and questioning how you can start adding value to your team.

This is my experience of how I searched for and found my fit as a Product Designer in my first few months at Monzo, but I believe this applies to any role joining a new product team.

1. Understand your strengths 💪

Uncovering my strengths felt like a crucial part of finding my fit at Monzo. When initially joining the team I was equally in awe of and intimidated by the level of talent of those working around me.

Eventually, and somewhat inevitably, imposter syndrome started to creep in and I began to doubt my fit at Monzo. With the support of my peers, I learnt to be kind to myself and to reflect on where my strengths lie.

You may have heard of the term “T-shaped” when referring to the expertise of an individual. T-shaped professionals have a breadth of knowledge in their field, but also have a deep understanding of a specialisation. For example, in the context of a Product Designer you may have a broad understanding of research, UX, and UI, but then be really great a specific group of those skills.

A chart showing the labels “Data”, “Research”, “UX Design”, “UI Design”, and “Development” along the X-axis, and a T-shape which represents experience across all skills, but an expertise in one of these skills.

Another way to visualise this is as a bell-curve, where there is a peak of deep knowledge in the core skill set, and a long tail on either side of that skill. For instance, a designer who specialises in UX will naturally acquire related skills such as UI design and research, but as you move further away from the core skill set, their expertise may gradually decrease.

A chart showing the labels “Data”, “Research”, “UX Design”, “UI Design”, and “Development” along the X-axis, and a bell-shaped curve which represents experience across all skills with a spike in one of these skills that tails off.

2. Understand the context you are working in 🧠

It can be tempting to jump in head first in an attempt to add value as quickly as possible; to start questioning each and every decision and to start putting your stamp on the product. But in my experience, the most valuable way to spend your first few months in a new role is to first build a deep understanding of the context you are working in.

The team

Get to know your team (and anyone at the company who will talk to you!) on a professional and personal level. Learn what people are working on, and what they think about the product; ask questions, learn lots, have bucket loads of 1:1s. Building rapport with your colleagues will enable you to speak directly with the people you are working with; Monzo encourages everyone to follow the behaviours from Radical Candor - caring personally while challenging directly.

Work closely with your team and understand their strengths; just as you have taken time to understand your own strengths, take the time to understand the strengths of the people you are working with.

The users

I would encourage you to try to talk to the people using your product within the first few weeks of starting a new role. Speaking first-hand with the people you are building for will allow you to build real empathy for your users, their problems, and their needs.

The company and the product

What are the company goals? How does the product make money? What is the product vision? Who are your competitors?

These are questions you will want to find the answers for before you can really ramp up as a Product Designer.

Over time you will come to build an understanding of the space you’re working in, the strengths of your colleges, and eventually you will start to uncover some opportunities where you feel you can add some value.

Now, this isn’t to say that you are picking up the slack from an under-performing colleague, but instead filling a gap where there may be more opportunity.

A chart showing the how different roles in a product team fill different gaps in the product development process.

3. Prioritise your core skill set 🧰

You are hired for a specific role, so this is where you should focus your energy. In my case, I am hired as a Product Designer so I should first prioritise my specific core skill set before exploring other opportunities to add value.

The majority of my effort goes into filling this gap; understanding the users, their problems and needs, sketching out user flows and wireframes, creating hi-fidelity UI and working with engineers to build out amazing experiences for the users.

Deprioritise overlap

There will be parts of the process that are already sufficiently owned. For example, if your team has a particular strength in research, overlapping too heavily in this area could be a waste of your efforts, or result in work being repeated.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t still dip your toe in the world of research if you are interested in this space, but just to consider if this is the place that you can add the most value.

A chart showing the how different roles in a product team fill different gaps in the product development process, and how someone can fill a gap in that process.

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself

Even though you should prioritise your core skill set, you shouldn’t ignore the long-tail of your knowledge. For example, if you are interested in experimentation you should collaborate with your friendly neighbourhood Data Analyst to learn more about how to properly run experiments.

4. Lean into other opportunities ↗️

Once you have found your footing in your core skill set, you can start to lean into the skill sets adjacent to your core skill set. Fill the gaps closest to your role first - if your team isn’t fortunate enough to have a dedicated User Researcher, then it may be most valuable to fill that gap if you have experience in that space.

In my experience, this isn’t an exact science and instead something you will get a feel for over time.

A chart showing the how different roles in a product team fill different gaps in the product development process, and how a gap can form when someone is removed from that product team.

5. Building products is a team sport ⚽️

Working in silos benefits no one, so collaborate with everyone in your product team. You can’t ship incredible experience without your team members, and the collaboration will lead to thoughtful discussions, innovative ideas, and solutions that would not have been possible otherwise.

No one person can do it alone, and each team member plays a critical role in ensuring that the product meets the needs and expectations of its users.

Make it easier to work with you, than without you

This is good life advice in general, but being easy to work with cannot be understated. Being easy to work with means being reliable, approachable and respectful of others' time and opinions, and maintaining a positive attitude even in challenging situations; a negative attitude is infectious and can easily spread through a team, whereas a positive attitude will cause people to gravitate towards you.

An individual can make a difference, but a team makes a miracle

A team-of-one has a massively reduced skill set compared to a fully staffed, multi-disciplinary squad. While individuals may have unique skills and strengths, collaboration allows for the pooling of these talents to achieve a common goal. In a team, individuals can learn from one another, share ideas, and provide constructive feedback to help each other improve.

An empty looking chart showing the limited skills a single person has when compared to a multi-disciplinary team.

6. Learn to adapt 🦋

Finally, learn to be resilient and adapt when things change (and things will change!). People leave, roles are replaced, teams restructure, priorities shift. When things change, so could your ‘fit’, so when the landscape shifts learn to shift with it and reassess where you can add value.

Your ability to adapt to change and embrace new challenges will be tested in your career, so approach these changes head on. Focusing on your physical and mental health can help you control stress, and help you keep a positive mindset during difficult periods of time.

Find your fit at Monzo!

We’re currently a team of about 40 Product Designers, Brand Designers and User Researchers working on everything our customers interact with: from our colourful bank cards, to the weight of our card carrier paper, to the sound a transaction makes on your phone, to the layout of information in-app and how customers interact with it. We also design for our internal tools and systems that enable us to serve customers at scale.

We’re very collaborative and we spend meaningful time together, learning from each other and helping everyone do their best work. We’re currently hiring across several roles. Join us!