Designing Team Rituals

Find the right rhythms for your team with these 6 learnings from Lattice Design.
John Saito
 — 
Product Designer

Find the right rhythms for your team with these 6 learnings from Lattice Design.

If you work on a team, you probably have a bunch of team rituals that help you all move to the same beat. Team syncs, stand-ups, retros, and more — with so many rituals, do you know what they’re all for?

Many of these rituals take the form of meetings, and so much of our time is spent in meetings nowadays. Studies show that the time we spend in meetings has increased every year since 2008. Yikes! That’s why it’s so important to pause every now and then to reflect on why these rituals exist.

I’m a newb at Lattice. I joined our Lattice Design team about two months ago. As a newcomer, the thing that surprised me by far is the thought that goes into all our Design team rituals. Each ritual is carefully orchestrated with a clear owner and process. It’s like I stepped into a symphony where every player knows their part, so everyone can play along to the same beat.

I was so inspired by these team rituals that I decided to write about them here. Below are six key takeaways I learned after observing our team's rituals.

1. Create safe spaces

Back when the Lattice Design team was small, our design critiques were open to anyone at the company. It was a great opportunity to get feedback from engineers, product managers, and even our customer experience team. “Design crit would be anyone I could get into the room,” says Elliot Dahl, one of Lattice’s first designers.

But as Lattice grew, we found that designers weren’t signing up for design critiques as much. With more people in the room, there was a sense that designers had to be more buttoned-up when they presented work. That led to a lot of prep work and a lot of pressure to present.

At that point, the team decided to try a different kind of design critique. Jared Erondu, our VP of Design, spun up something we endearingly call “design throw-ups 🤮.” Throw-ups were for designers only. It was a chance to throw up early thoughts and sketches. It was okay for our work to be messy—even if it looked like a heaping pile of pixels. It was also an opportunity to nerd out on design details and refine our craft.

With that change, we created a safe space for designers to get feedback. Now work is being shared much earlier and way more often than before. To this day, we’ve kept the name—and the 🤮 emoji—and it’s one of our most revered rituals.

2. Iterate with intention

When the pandemic hit, it forced us to find new ways of working and socializing. Because everyone was now remote, Jared kicked off a new morning ritual where team members could Zoom in from their kitchens, while making their morning coffee or tea.

It was supposed to mimic what used to happen in the office kitchen at the beginning of the day. Folks talked about their personal lives and what they planned to do that week. It was pretty informal. But over time, attendance started to dwindle, and so Lakshmi Manikantan, a Design Manager, stepped up to iterate on this morning ritual.

To figure out what was working or not, Lakshmi sent out surveys to the team to make sure everyone’s voice was heard. Thanks to these efforts, we’ve fine-tuned this ritual quite a bit over time. These changes weren’t just for the sake of change; they were informed by direct feedback from the team.

In its latest iteration, we call this ritual our Monday "warmup," and we basically fill out a Notion doc in real-time, which helps guide our discussion. We spend the time sharing kudos, learnings, and updates about what we're focused on that week. It's a feel-good meeting that kicks the week off right.

15 mins spent reflecting on last week...
15 minutes spent reflecting on the last week...
... and 15 minutes spent on the coming week.
... and 15 minutes spent on the coming week.

As our team grows, we'll assess whether we need to tweak the ritual or not. “What works for 12 people might not work for 16,” says Lakshmi. But the important thing is that we’re always willing to iterate with intention. We’ve come a long way from those virtual coffee chats!

3. Pass the baton

Some of our team rituals were inspired by teams outside of Lattice. On Fridays, we have a ritual called “cooldowns,” which was inspired by the Design team at Figma.

Cooldowns are a fun way to chill and decompress as a team. The coolest thing about cooldowns is that everyone takes turns owning the ritual. Each week, a different person on the team comes up with an activity of their choosing and leads the team through the activity.

For example, Amy Luo ran a cooldown where she guided the team to make avatars for each other:

Fritz Riha organized a cooldown to design CD mixtape covers:

Luc Chaissac organized a crash course on 3D design:

And Megan McGowan organized a cooldown to hang with the Webflow Design team:

By passing the baton from one team member to another, this ritual can naturally evolve into whatever our team is passionate about. We each have ownership of it, which makes us all feel invested in making it meaningful.

4. Find a partner to jam with

As a team grows, there's a tendency for designers to start feeling siloed from each other. I work on this part of the product. You work on that part.

How can you make sure you’re all creating an experience that feels coherent across product areas?

One way that Lattice tackles this problem is with our design pairing ritual. Each quarter, designers pair up with a designer from another product area and have weekly working sessions together.

Not only does it give us an opportunity to stay in sync across product areas, it also gives us a chance to learn from each other, bounce ideas off one another, and feel less alone on a growing design department. We try to form pairs based on our strengths and weaknesses, so we can level each other up along the way.

For example, this quarter I’m paired with Amy Luo, who’s way better than me at visual design. Thanks to these pairing sessions, I can get an inside look at how she designs in real-time and can ask questions about why she chooses certain patterns or layouts.

I feel like I learn more in one pairing session than in any design class I’ve ever attended.

5. Quality over quantity

As a team, you might have a million and one ideas for rituals you can try. But if you end up doing too much, you'll find them becoming inefficient and hard to remember.

When deciding on rituals, be sure to focus on quality over quantity. At Lattice, we do this by calling out which rituals align to our team goals. We might circle back on the other ideas in the future, but for now, it's important to focus on the rituals that really matter for hitting our goals.

You can brainstorm, you can vote, you can discuss—but at some point, you've got to face the music and make hard decisions about how to spend your time.

6. Don’t force it

One last thing to keep in mind as you form your own team rituals is to never force them onto the team. “It has to feel like us,” says Jared.

Like any designer, we take inspiration from what we've seen in the wild, take the time to explore and iterate, and pour our hearts into creating something we believe in. But we recognize that these rituals won't stay the same forever.

By encouraging the team to evolve these rituals over time, we’ve settled on a set of rituals that feel uniquely suited for our team at one point in time. Will these rituals still work for our team one year from now? Probably not. But that’s okay. This time next year, we’ll probably have new rituals that are better suited for our team size and interests. And that’s perfectly natural.

Come jam with us

If anything you read here sounds like music to your ears, feel free to reach out! We’re hiring a bunch at Lattice, and we’d love to see how you might play a part in evolving our team—and our rituals.

For our latest openings, head over to our Lattice careers page. And if you just want to keep tabs on what we're up to, feel free to follow @latticedesign on Twitter.

Thanks so much to everyone on the Lattice Design team who helped me find my rhythm to tell this story, especially Jared Erondu, Lakshmi Manikantan, Elliot Dahl, and Amy Luo! 🎶

And a special thank you to Valentin Galmand for the cover illustration 🤩

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