How to Scale your In-house Design Team to Maximize Efficiency

You’ve finally optimized your product, found your perfect market niche and the business is growing. Amazing! But, what to do about your in-house teams? If your production is on the rise, probably so is your employees’ workload.

In-house designers in particular are commonly left behind in business growth. Since they are usually not a direct part of the final goods delivered to customers, it’s frequent that their work on areas like marketing or web design gets pushed down in the priority list.

Growing in-house design teams can be quite a dilemma. Increasing workload will result in designer burnout, but hiring, training, and implementing new teams is also a demanding process that will also hinder productivity.

You would be surprised at how many companies in a high-growth stage suffer to define how to scale their in-house design teams while still keeping a stable team structure and a high-quality standard.

However, designers are a critical part of business, and without an efficient, stable scaling strategy, they’re doomed to fail with their deliveries and suffer burnout. And in turn, the whole business will suffer.

In this article, I’ll go through the top critical things to consider when planning to scale your in-house design teams.

As a multicontinental design company, in 24Slides we have had to face many of these challenges ourselves. With 100+ in-house designers in 3 different offices and working to create amazing presentations for customers worldwide, you can imagine that scaling our teams is a tricky task.

I’ll share the specific, practical actions that allow us to go through a 100% growth rate in the last year, all without hampering the design quality and burning out our designers.

5 common challenges when scaling your in-house design team and how to face them

Companies that have managed to reach the coveted stage of constant growth have to face the very specific challenges of scaling their in-house teams to match production to avoid burnout. This applies to both small and large companies. It is not about the size; it’s about the velocity and growth percentage. 4 to 14 employees is still a 250% growth rate.

The question is, how do you face changes that need to happen so fast? And even more importantly, how do you do it in a way that can endure constant growth?

The true key to scaling in-house design teams is to plan ahead. This might seem obvious, but it’s more complex than it might seem at first hand. To scale your in-house teams efficiently, your teams should be structured and planned for it from the very beginning.  

It might sound silly, but the real secret is not to try to grow your teams overnight. The secret to scaling in-house teams is to build and structure teams that are scalable from their conception.

This means creating flexible structures where people are not only prepared but eager for changes.

Here you’ll find some of the most common challenges companies face when trying to scale their in-house teams. Take into account that all these challenges are all interconnected. To make a truly effective scaling process must be a holistic task.

1. Defining when it’s time to scale your team

One of the most common problems companies face is realizing when it’s time to scale up their in-house design teams. Since design is usually a marketing or communication issue and not part of the main product or service, an increase in demand can easily fall under the radar.

In the case of in-house teams especially, where designers are meant to support several different departments and requests simultaneously, it’s common for people to be unaware of the workload required from them.

However, not having an efficient, comprehensive way to track the design demand, and therefore not being able to realize when there’s a spike in demand, is a surefire way to get designers overworked and burnout.

Once you’re able to track it, it’s now a matter of deciding if the workload is sustainable in the long run. This means defining how much work each employee can cover depending on their skills and experience (check out point #3!).

It’s important to also take into account seasonal and special event-related spikes in demand. Even if your team is managing on an everyday basis, it’s important to know that it’s not a stable thing. And, if there’s an increase in workload, it’s critical to determine if it’s a one-time event or if it will become a recurrent thing.

Finally, to create a truly scalable in-house design team, it’s crucial to add to the tracking the resources necessary to hire and train new employees. Point #2 will go more into detail about this, but for now, suffice it to say that it’s something that takes time and effort away from your designers that should be taken into account when defining the workload.

In the case of 24Slides, we’ve found that having a head of Design Operations is vital to manage and track our in-house team’s demand. We use a “point” system that takes into account the deadlines and the difficulty of each task to determine how much resources it will take away from the designers.

This allows us to know exactly the amount of workload we can take and ensure that we’re able to meet our clients’ needs without compromising quality or overexerting our designers. We’ve found out that structuring our work this way allows us to standardize the production process and maximize efficiency.

2. Optimizing your hiring process

To scale up a team, hiring new people is a must. However, many companies find that hiring and training new workers turns out to be a bottleneck that ends up hindering productivity even more.

To make your in-house design teams scalable, it’s a must to create a hiring and training roadmap. Standardizing this process will allow you to be more efficient and identify and solve recurrent challenges.

Making an interview plan that you can reuse and optimize is vital, as this will help you identify the skills and characteristics you’re looking for and how to best evaluate the perfect fit for your company.

Hiring people that fit into your company culture and who are excited about change and upscaling can also make a huge difference. A person willing to learn and improve can always learn a new skill, but a person with a non-flexible attitude is much less likely to change.

Hiring was a tough challenge here at 24Slides since our growth rates demanded an off-the-charts hiring rate. What we have found out in our 10+ years of experience is that for scaling our in-house design teams, slow and steady wins the race.

We’ve implemented a thorough hiring process that allows us to evaluate their skills but also their willingness to learn and adapt themselves to the company.

Our Training Specialist allows us to invest a lot of time and resources in making sure that the new designers are ready and can maintain the quality standard our presentations are known for. This allows us to hire people at a fast pace without it hindering quality or taking time away from more senior designers in order to teach and train the new ones.

This might mean that new employees take a longer time to join their actual teams, but we’ve found out that, in the long run, it’s worth it. And, with our Design Operations running (check out point #1!) and accurately forecasting our design demand, it allows us to stay ahead of the curve and avoid burnout when scaling our in-house teams.  

3. Establishing new roles and responsibilities

Additionally from a prolonged training time, we’ve found that what truly makes a difference when scaling your in-house design teams is creating spaces for people to develop.

What do I mean by this? Mainly, structuring in-house teams in a way that is scalable from the start. One thing that 24Slides focuses on is upskilling and focusing on the employees’ career paths. What this means, in the long run, is more senior employees that can, in turn, guide and help grow new hirelings.

Many companies get stuck in the belief that if something worked before, then it mustn’t be changed. However, this kind of thinking is fatal when scaling in-house design teams. More people means that processes that were efficient yesterday are no longer good at all, and rather than help, they will significantly stunt the production process.

Without a clear career path structure and the motivation to grow into new roles, many companies find themselves incapable of finding people to step up into new responsibilities. Not only that, increasing the number of new people will most likely mean new managing roles, like our Training Specialist mentioned in point #2.

In 24Slides we are careful to create in-house team structures that facilitate growing professionally. Over time, we’ve found out that having designers with different kinds of roles and experience (like manager, senior, junior, and entry-level) is one of the things that help us the most when it comes to scaling our design teams.

For example, design team managers tackle fewer production points because their role also entails overseeing and looking after the new ones. And once an entry-level designer has gained enough experience to be promoted, or a senior designer is willing to become a manager of their own team, we have an opening for a brand new designer.

This allows us to constantly scale and implement new designers and teams without ever hampering quality or production.

4. Prioritizing design innovation

One of the best signs that your in-house design team is able to handle constant scaling is being able to prioritize design innovation. It’s too common to see in-house teams overworked and barely managing to cover their everyday deliveries. While it definitely means an increase in demand, this is the worst possible scenario in which to scale your in-house teams.

A too-intense workload means no time to think about innovation and exploration, and especially, no time to interview and hire new employees. Scaling an in-house design team takes away resources like time and effort. And if your teams are already running low on these, it’s a given that, once you begin hiring, quality and production will go down.

So, what to do? You might be surprised, but outsourcing your design work can actually help support your in-house teams!

Many people think of in-house and outsourcing as two completely opposite models. However, when structuring your in-house design teams to be scalable, a hybrid model can actually work wonders.

More and more companies nowadays use dedicated B2B teams to support their in-house teams. These are not meant to supplant them; rather, they take the work excess and help them focus on the most strategic parts of their work,  allowing them to scale their teams at their own pace, with quality, not speed, in mind.

24Slides works with several companies to support their own in-house design teams. We create exclusive platforms for them to maximize efficiency and make the integration seamless. Design team managers from all kinds of companies constantly tell us how much of a game changer it is.

Now, they can focus on the most strategic, innovative part of their work without spending time doing routinary presentation slides or document branding. It’s the perfect model for in-house design teams with a high demand for tedious, repetitive work that takes a lot of time and resources away from them.

5. Focusing on team morale and company culture

Finally, all these previous points will not have their maximum impact in scaling your in-house design teams unless they’re accompanied by a corresponding mindset. Team morale and company culture are vital to creating a lasting effect in any structural change.

Change can be daunting, and it’s critical to create a space where your team feels supported and encouraged to embrace it. Focus on employee success and creating career opportunities that encourage people to step up to new challenges.

The most important thing is to embrace process optimization as a company. Scaling in-house design teams is all about optimization, and as such, change es inevitable. The only constant in growth is that there’ll be changes. The main goal is that your team feels excited by it, not overwhelmed.

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