The Art of Launching a Team: Christine Mau's New European Design Group for Kimberly-Clark

It's one thing to reorganize an existing creative team, but what's it like to launch a new one from scratch, inside a large established company?

We spoke with Christine Mau, the European design director for Kimberly-Clark, who's in the middle of rising to this very challenge.

You've probably heard Mau's name before. She was previously based in the United States as the global design director for Kimberly-Clark. In that role, she helped bring a range of delightful designs to store shelves, including those striking Kleenex boxes shaped like fruit slices and the company's colorful toilet paper roll covers designed by Jonathan Adler.

Kimberly-Clark has long had an in-house design management function in North America that relied largely on external agencies for execution. But in 2012, the U.S. team expanded its role to provide global brand strategy. Now Mau is building a design management function specifically for Europe to help leverage design as a competitive advantage in those markets.

Ultimately, she'll have a team of roughly eight people that will be responsible for all of European packaging and bringing design into the product innovation process. The new group will consist of design managers, packaging technologists (who deal with the technical aspects of manufacturing a package) and possibly a senior designer.

When we talked with Mau, she was recruiting staff, standardizing processes, identifying best practices and conducting training. She's also working to achieve buy-in for her new group from cross-functional teams in Europe, such as marketing, research and development, and sales. One way she's doing that is by including them in the hiring process. "I want them to have skin in the game," Mau says. "And give them a chance to ask questions and feel like we're building this together."

She's also making a point of asking a lot of questions herself and listening carefully to the answers. "Find out what their fears are so you can either address them head-on with new solutions or dispel them," she advises. "It's about on-boarding the people who are basically going to be your cross-functional teammates into what you're doing, why you're doing it. Let them have a peek behind the curtain. Involve them."

Mau also makes a point to be open and transparent about her team's role. "You're still running this project," she says. "You're still providing the strategic thought leadership, but I'm here to help you get the most out of design, to leverage design in ways that you may not know because you didn't specialize in this."

Going forward design will become an integral part of a new project from day one, so consumer insight can help define the packaging. Her goal by the end of year is to work with all the teams in Europe, but right now, she's focusing on the early adopters.

"Don't fight the battles," she says. "If someone's telling me, 'We've got it. We don't really see the need,' at this point, because I'm not fully staffed, I'm just saying, 'Fine. Keep going.' I'll work over here with this team who's really pulling me in; they are the early adopters. And once we have something to celebrate, and we're holding it up, I know that the other teams will follow."

Have you ever been involved in building a new creative team? What helped you make it successful?