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Kai Haley, Creating Future-ready Cross-functional Teams

The following excerpt is transcribed from the FON event that took place on 5 November 2020.

Key points

  • A key characteristic of a ‘Learning Organisation’ is its ability to adapt to change. This has been evident from many organisation’s through the adoption of digital technology in response to the pandemic.
  • Building a team that can navigate complexity starts from having a safe environment to work in. This enables teams to experiment and build resilience..



Kai is an experienced leader in the Design and Innovation Industry, who has developed vision, strategy and launches for both Google product teams and it’s partners. As Head of UX Methods and Process, Kai creates and scales programs to enable the culture and mindsets that drive improved product quality. As one of the Founders and Leads of the Google Sprint Master Academy, Kai has trained over 800 Sprint Masters to drive innovation across Google’s diverse product areas.


What is a ‘Future-ready’ team?

For many organisations being ‘Future-ready’ means standing still while formulating a five to ten-year business plan. At Google, it means a constant cycle of rapid testing and iteration. This is demonstrated culturally by the dexterity of individuals being able to successfully work across verticals without compromise in agility or the ability to achieve business results. Google has been very intentional in standardising an agile mindset at scale across the organisation. In order to achieve this, they’ve worked towards building a ‘Learning Organisation’; a concept popularised by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline

The typical characteristics of a ‘Learning Organisation’ include practicing Systems Thinking, investing in the mastery of Leaders and Facilitators, as well as collectively working towards  a shared vision. These are all factors that have contributed toward Google’s success, especially in recent times of high uncertainty and volatility. Where others have failed to adapt, Google quickly adapted to find ways of working that responded to a ‘new normal’.


How can we be more adaptive to what’s coming?

A ‘Learning Organisation’ at an individual level ensures that individuals are able to work autonomously to make their own choices on a daily basis. These decisions collectively help move the organisation forward together to adapt quickly. 

Building a team that can navigate complexity starts by setting the parameters for having a safe environment to work in. This enables teams to experiment and build resilience so when faced with failure, they are able to pick themselves back up and keep going; further building the team’s understanding of how complex systems work and how to be adaptive when needed.


‘Future-ready’ remote collaboration

To demonstrate the themes of Kai’s session the Rose, Thorn, Bud activity from Luma Workplace was used to answer the question – ‘How can we make remote collaboration easier and reduce friction for cross-functional partners?’ The activity is designed to trigger responses by identifying the positive and negative aspects of a question, along with areas of opportunities. In this case identifying opportunities to make teams ‘Future-ready’. The following insights came out of this activity:

Rose (What’s working well? What are the highlights? What do you like?)

  • Having the opportunity to connect with people that you previously wouldn’t have.
  • Online sessions tend to be shorter, focused and clearer in scope.
  • It has become easier to get more people from different teams into the ‘(remote) room’ because everyone doesn’t have to be in the same location.
  • Digital recordings (video, chat logs etc.) make it easier to revisit the session.
  • Being online gives people the flexibility to multitask and be more comfortable while working.

Thorn (What’s not working well? What are the low points? What do you not like?)

  • Overwhelming sense of video conference and technology fatigue.
  • Different time zones can be a challenge when organising meetings and workshops.
  • Full engagement and participation can be difficult because attention spans are shorter, and people are distracted more easily.
  • Human connection can be lacking because some participants choose to leave videos off, the energy of the room can’t be felt and body language can be difficult to read.

Bud (What opportunities do you see? What would you do differently? What questions do you have?)

    • Less travelling or going in for meetings/workshops means more opportunities for hybrid working sessions. 
    • Much more pre-session planning will be necessary to create more structure for meetings and workshops. This can be done through setting up ground rules beforehand and using workshop templates and toolkits.
    • There is a need to uncover more ways of preserving and building human connection with the team.
    • There is still room to think about how we can make online collaboration more efficient.


Can you tell us about the trends and patterns you have observed since the pandemic?

KH – The trends that I’ve seen are people like using video game platforms, like Twitch, particularly for collaboration. There’s this idea of how we can use the tools that we currently have to bring people together, because a lot of our video conferencing tools aren’t quite designed for this human connection or to give us the signals that we need. With video games, other types of live streaming platforms and new technology solutions, I’m seeing a lot of that kind of hacking of different platforms for work needs or even for social needs (read more).

How does a delivery team that maintains and enhances an existing product (e.g. Google Docs) incorporate the Design Sprint method into their delivery rhythm?

KH – We do it in different ways at different kinds of sessions. One of things we’ve been looking at is modifying the way that we might approach a session. So, it really depends on the stage that you’re at in your product. With an existing product, like Google search, we’ll do regular, rolling studies every two weeks. We’ll look at running a collaborative session in advance of a rolling study so that we can generate ideas that we could test, but we might also do a bigger Design Sprint, usually in the beginning of the year, or towards the end of the year where we’re going to be figuring out the budget we need for next year.

These Design Sprints would be for aligning the team on questions like – ‘What’s the strategy?’, ‘What’s the vision?’, or ‘Where do we want to go with this next year?’. Then there’s the Opportunity Design Sprint, if we’ve just finished a research study. This is where we look at what kind of research we already have and get the various functions, such as engineering and product to really engage with that research study and look for the opportunities. 

Another kind of session that comes up   is when we’ve been trying to solve a problem, and haven’t made much progress. This kind of Design Sprint is for when we want to just generate a broad range of ideas together and supercharge our innovation.

How do you see the future of Human-Centered Design evolve as we continue to embrace remote work?

KH – I think we’re trying to figure that out right now in asking ‘How do we create more human connection in the remote context and what are the tools that we have for that?’ 

I think that in a lot of ways, Human-Centered Design in particular the principles of Design Thinking are really benefiting us now. This way of working is so engaging and interactive. We can bring in a lot of methods from this discipline by looking at how we help people to get in the right frame of mind and how we can help them to be more creative. In many ways, this is a big opportunity for us in the remote context. We’re experimenting with a lot of frameworks such as Improv, Design Sprints and mindfulness. 

Figuring out how we do it uniquely to the virtual context is the interesting challenge right now because it involves building trust and bringing in these methods that people might be most used to doing in person. In many ways, the Human-Centered Design aspect is less difficult in the remote context. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to continue to evolve and move to be even more effective in the remote context.

Further reading

To see all our speaker Future Of Now book recommendations click here.


More about Kai Haley and The Design Sprint Team at Google:


About the Future Of Now series

Our goal at More Space For Light with the Future of Now (FON) series is to build a community of like-minded passionate professionals. Initially, this series was created as a small in-person gathering to provide a knowledge share for our and our event sponsors community of clients and partners. However, by switching our operations to remote it has allowed us to raise the bar, and include our global network.

Our vision is the same, regardless of the potential scale of remote FON events. We intend to bring together like-minded professionals to share, inspire, and explore new opportunities for growth. So you can discover new ways of working to bring back into your organisation.

If you wish to connect with the broader community and join the ever-growing FON community on LinkedIn click here.


More about the organisations connected to this event

  • morespaceforlight.com.au – A strategy and innovation consultancy specialising in both in-person and/or remote workshops, design programs and Design Sprints.
  • MURAL.COheaps of new templates and tools. Sign up it is brilliant.
  • hacker.exchange – a global education company that is supercharging the next generation of startups & leaders.
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