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Intentional innovation: Why a web agency turned to skateparks to ignite their team

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It’s easy to fall into the habit of doing everything the same way. Even the most cutting-edge business can eventually become too comfortable and fail to adapt to new technologies or processes. This could be down to many factors, but for smaller businesses, I suspect it has a lot to do with finding something that works well and not realising that the market is changing until it is too late.

As a web development agency, we see a lot of change in the way our industry works. Whether new technologies, fashions or customer requirements, we need to keep on top of things in order to remain good at what we do. One of my main aims is to keep the team motivated to explore new technologies, rather than simply being excellent at what they already know. This can be a difficult task.

Opening up to new ideas to stop business stagnation

Last summer I had a long conversation with one of my team members who wanted help developing his skills. This made me think about what I could do to help the whole team with their personal development.

Since everyone learns in different ways, it’s not as simple as sending everyone on a course, or reading a book. So how could I challenge the whole team to learn something new? More specifically, how could I challenge them to learn something relevant to them, whilst enhancing the team unit? The answer, at least for us, was to take on in an internal project. After letting everyone come up with ideas, we decided to pursue The Skateparks Project, which we launched in beta over the weekend.

The Skateparks Project is a resource website for anyone looking to build a skatepark in the UK. It includes the UK’s most comprehensive directory skateparks, a news feed and we’re currently working on dedicated resources and developing features for a community. Although there’s still a long way to go, it has come so far since the initial idea.

We started work back in July 2014. It was important that the project didn’t interfere with client work, but it was also important to keep things on track. We had regular weekly meetings and everyone in the team was given their own tasks and responsibilities. At first we set the parameters of the project, including what we wanted to achieve and how we’d go about it. For this, deciding on a mission and vision statement really helped us keep our direction.

We then discussed what we as individuals wanted to achieve from the project, which allowed us to split tasks accordingly. One team member wanted to improve his confidence on the phone, so he was in charge of calling skateparks and community groups. Another wanted to try a new website framework, so we adopted a new framework for him to work on. In total each person had a list of over 10 things they wanted to try, and this project provided them with the perfect opportunity.

Although monetisation was never the intention, launching the project has opened up the possibility of additional revenue streams. But, more importantly, the main objectives of the project have clearly been achieved. Our team is now stronger through each team member trying something new and our business is more competitive than ever before, thanks to the experience of efficient working and the opportunity to learn the new technologies required to deliver The Skateparks Project.
I would certainly encourage other businesses to do something similar. Even if you only dedicate a few hours each week, the results are great at a relatively low expense. Of course, it’s essential to never distract from paying client work, but based on our experiences we’re looking forward our next internal project, whatever that may be.

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