May 25, 2022

Rising to the Challenge: 3 Tips to Set Up In-House Expertise from adidas' Service Design Lead

Are you tasked with bringing a new skill set into your organization? Then read on to see how I built the service design team at one of the biggest sports brands in the world.
by Karen Rozenbaumstaff

Having the chance to be at the heart of creating a new internal practice is one of the most exciting ventures I can imagine. Not least, when the challenge will bring even more consumer centricity into the working practices at adidas.

I made the move from consultancy to in-house a few months ago and knew this was an opportunity that I just couldn’t miss. Since joining, I’ve taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to setting this new Service Design team up and running and would like to share with you three areas are key to consider when building a new practice in any organization.

1.Share the value you and your practice can bring

The first area I recommend bearing in mind when setting up a practice is making sure you and your brand-new department are known inside the organization. To do this, a continuous networking effort and showing the value you could bring is paramount.

"A continuous networking effort and showing the value you could bring is paramount."


When you are a new hire to an organization – regardless of the team – it’s important to quickly show the value you can bring. After all, they chose you for a reason. While external consultants constantly have to prove their value, people will have greater trust in internal colleagues. Therefore, communicating why you are there is crucial to help you be known as the go-to person for your area of expertise, in my case that was service design.

One way of doing that is showing empathy and taking the time to understand how different people across the organization perceive your skillset: What sort of knowledge do they think you and your new department have (or don’t have)? Do they understand what you’re there to do? What language do they use to explain it? What are their expectations of your work?

Doing this will help you shape how you communicate about your team and get the buy in from others. You bring value, they see the value.  

"In my case, as a service designer, I am trained to put the consumer at the heart of everything we do, looking at the business from the point of view of the consumer."

Karen RozenbaumSenior Service Designer

But as an organization or across teams and silos, we don’t always know that perspective, that’s where service design comes in. We bring an end-to-end view of the consumer journey and we also have a bunch of tools – from how to define the north star, how to facilitate workshops, how to develop consumer interviews, journey maps and blueprints – to helps us to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity that comes with transformation.

Make time in your calendar to sit down with peers and leaders from across the company to both learn what their needs are and also share what you do.Make time in your calendar to sit down with peers and leaders from across the company to both learn what their needs are and also share what you do.

To approach these conversations, I schedule coffee chats with my new colleagues. Having introduced myself and asked them to do the same, I use a short interview guide to help me with specific questions that would ensure I develop the understanding I am aiming for:

Understanding their structure and main challenges:

  • Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in the company?
  • What are you working on at the moment?
  • How is your department structured?

Getting a sense of their expectation about us:

  • What is your understanding of service design?
  • How has your experience been working with external consultancies in this area?
  • Now that we are building an internal service design team, what are your expectations? What do you imagine my job to look like?
  • How do you see us working together? In which type of projects?

Another quick way of building you and your team’s profile is through participation and lecturing at ‘Lunch and Learn’ across your company and also through small projects or workshops. After I joined adidas, I facilitated a workshop in which our internal sponsor was so impressed that they wrote a positive feedback e-mail and organically recommended Service Design for other colleagues across the organization. They are calling on us again this year for a much bigger project. 

2.Recruit and onboard the best talents

The second area I would like to mention is to properly focus on recruiting and onboarding to attract the best talents in your field. We have found that investing time and energy in this to be an absolute must. If you do not have the right talents and skillsets in your new team, it will be difficult to create the in-house expertise you’re striving for. 

"To recruit the best people, don't simply copy-paste a model or a job advert you saw from another company; it won't work."

Karen RozenbaumSenior Service Designer

You have to invest energy and time thinking not only about the role and responsibilities, but also how it fits into your organization and who to hire first, second and third.

When they do join, make sure you have a personalized onboarding program ready for them. Give them an assigned buddy and suggest some key people for each new joiner to have coffee-chats with. You can also make their onboarding easier by putting together a bunch of relevant documents, tools and case studies from your area, in our case service design. It will help fire them up from day one and will support you set the basis to build an engaged and empowered team.

Put the time in up front to create a comprehensive onboarding experience for your new hires. It will pay off in the long run.Put the time in up front to create a comprehensive onboarding experience for your new hires. It will pay off in the long run.

Another thing you should consider is that you and other members of your team are new, therefore, you are all still learning how the organization works and how you can better apply your skillset (new practice) in-house. So, balancing when to deliver projects and when to learn and grow the team is essential.
When molding a new department, it’s common that others start to reach out excitedly with their requests and it’s easy to accept them due to the excitement of the moment.

"Stay grounded and avoid getting overwhelmed and focusing on superficial things, you need to prioritize."

Karen RozenbaumSenior Service Designer

Also remember that it’s ok to say ‘no’. Saying no is more difficult than you think, since it’s always nice to be wanted, but it will help your team to focus their energy on strategic activities and maybe even bring some initiatives that the team is keen to kick off. Therefore, it could guarantee the success of how this in-house practice is seen and recognized across the organization.

"Remember that it’s ok to say 'no'."


3.The means and the tools to get the job done

The third important area to successfully set up an in-house expertise is investing time to establish the foundations of your work, both in terms of how you will operate and the tools to help you get there.

Reflect on how you want to be seen inside your organization and make sure to develop a strategy on how you will accomplish this. To build a solid practice with long-lasting and trusted relationships, it’s important to have clear working processes and an agreed range of tools. Create workstreams to set up the basis of a well-founded internal practice. Think about – and design – your own internal operating model.

In one of these task forces around our Internal Operational Model, we paired 2-3 service designers to dedicate a few hours a week to ask questions like: Do we want to work like an internal service design agency? Do we want to be an open lab? Are we going to be involved only on the most strategic requests?

We decided to prototype and test a template on how we could evaluate new requests, matching the designers we have available with our strategic priorities. As we were also hiring and building a new team, this helped us to assess whether we could accept a new request.

New teams need to look at their priorities and stay focused on achieving their goals. Saying no can be hard but necessary.New teams need to look at their priorities and stay focused on achieving their goals. Saying no can be hard but necessary.

When it comes to tools, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As a new in-house practice, you are literally just starting to hire and, therefore, you will probably have people from different schools and experiences.

"When it comes to tools, there is no one-size-fits-all solution."


Consequently, you will want to create a basic structure with standard tools and guidance to help new joiners immediately understand the best way to ‘do’ service design (or your particular skill set) in the adidas environment.
Depending on how your organization works and what sort of systems and tools you have (e.g., MS Teams, SharePoint, Stream channels, etc.), the recommendation is to leverage them for your own advantage. Use what best meets your needs. In our case, we created a virtual shared environment just for our internal service design practice and a video channel where we could record and host sessions with external consultants talking about key previous projects.

By leveraging the expertise of others and bringing methodologies we successfully applied in the past, we could create a pattern on how we approach projects. Moreover, by dedicating a small team and specific time (like we were in a project) to focus on the operating model and on the specific tools we would use as templates for future projects, it helped us set up the foundations of the new service design department.


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