The best design debrief: ‘Nomikai’

If you’ve ever worked…um, anywhere… the reward for finishing a project can feel like another project. “Cue-the-confetti-now-get-back-to-work!” The reality is that teams tend to scatter immediately after the last deliverable is sent and the opportunity to celebrate, reflect, amass institutional knowledge, and improve one’s practice with intention is often lost.

We want to share with you how we overcame this. Over the years, Cooper has made efforts to capture valuable project and practice insights in complex dashboards and documentation. But nothing stuck. The tools were weighty and easy to put off. “We’ll do it next week,” designers said wearily. And we all know how that story ends.

Enter Nomikai.

At the end of a challenging recent project, my colleagues Tammy, Sarah, and I decided we needed to mark the occasion. Tammy mentioned a Japanese tradition called “Nomikai” where teams celebrate completed projects by going out drinking with their co-workers and sharing truths. Some of us weren’t big drinkers but were inspired by the concept and decided to adapt the custom to suit our needs. Cooper has been experimenting with this tradition for about a year and our post-project celebrations tend to go something like this:

STEP 1 – Get Outta Dodge:

A third-party helps the team pick a venue and time to meet before the project ends. Sometimes this takes place during business hours, but sometimes not, depending on team members’ schedules. I like to hold these gatherings outside the office, when possible. The key is to escape our day-to-day environment in favor of different geometry and emotionally neutral ground. There should be snacks or drinks. Or, better yet, snacks AND drinks. It should feel FUN — whatever that means to you and your team. We’ve had Nomikai outings on the East River Ferry, at breakfast over donuts, devouring meatloaf sandwiches at a local pub, and noshing on pastries in a public atrium surrounded by art. In a pinch, beers and music in the conference room works too.

Team Environment
STEP 2 – Reflect and Share:

Once we’re settled in, we pull out pens and stickies. The team takes 5 minutes to write “3 Things We Enjoyed” about the project. Then we take another 5 minutes to write “3 Things Well-Learned.” (You might be tempted to phrase this as, “3 Things That Went Wrong” but this is a celebration and we’re trying to be positive, people!) Then we go around the table — one sticky at a time — and share those reflections. Productive conversations happen (along with a healthy amount of self-congratulation) and we all walk out with full bellies, a sense of catharsis and ideas for how to improve the next time. I also walk out with a pocketful of stickies that are soon immortalized in a…

STEP 3 – Team Trophy:

Yes, trophies! The pace of consulting is such that it’s easy to forget what you worked on last week, let alone 3 months ago. A little gold spray paint applied to an agreed upon object can be a delightful tactile reminder (as well as an office conversation piece). We affix tags that show photos of each team member and the observations they made at the celebration. Cooper’s trophies have been accumulating for a year now and include a Transformer robot (Google Transformation), a bust of Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson Health), a husky dog (UConn Foundation) and a giant pill (USP). We also have a Nomikai Slack channel where we share pictures of people, trophies, and insights to make sure that co-workers in other offices can share in the celebration.

Our Nomikai tradition is still a work in progress. It’s lightweight, attainable, and fun. It also checks off many boxes around team-building, sharing truths, and setting intentions for the future. However, we still strive to carve more time to uncover the deeper stories of the work we do and reflect it back to the company and world at-large. Other office cultures may require different methods, but whatever you do to mark these milestones, I urge you to reflect because taking time out for insight-gathering (and fun!) is a strategic imperative and a keystone of design leadership.

Shannon McGarity
Shannon McGarity

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