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It’s a conversation, not a hand-off

Working cross-functionally is challenging. Some thoughts I've had on the topic.

Note: This was originally published on Medium. Reposting here for archival purposes.

It can take considerable effort for a multi-disciplinary team to involve each other in their discipline-specific processes. While it sounds simple-minded to say, it all boils down to effective communication. There can be a plethora of obstacles to overcome to achieve this, but I truly believe magic is possible when it happens. Here are a few magical moments I’ve personally experienced as a result of successful interdisciplinary team communication:

  1. Shared vision. By understanding the problem needing to be solved, the business outcomes, and user needs, and creating the solution together, the whole team takes ownership of it. Not just management.
  2. Trust. By working closely together from the beginning, the team knows and trusts each other well enough that they can constructively identify, discuss and resolve issues that will hinder their success. The end result is something everyone is happy with, and it typically exceeds expectations.
  3. Improvement takes effort. The team knows what they need to do better next time to make the next thing even better. In fact, they are usually working on adjusting their process to make those improvements before they end the project.

Conversely, if any individual is protective of their disciplinary turf, or tries to play the CYA game, there are countless opportunities for the project to go awry. It will happen. And everyone will be left wondering where things went wrong.

So how can we have a better result? I’ve been thinking about this for a while and have formed a couple of key assumptions about how a team can experience the gloriousness of effectively communicating with each other:

  1. Blow up the silos. Silos are restrictive, counterproductive, and ultimately destructive to team morale, productivity, and effectiveness. It shouldn’t matter if you’re the Product Manager, Designer, or Developer. (This can be particularly challenging in established organizations, but by cultivating the right executive support it is doable. Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.) Product Experience Teams (PXT) are one of many new ideas that show some great potential to help form highly collaborative and engaged teams.
  2. Opinions are important. Healthy discussions about those opinions lead to better decisions. But attaching personal worth, an ego, or passive-aggressive behavior to an opinion is the most insidiously destructive thing that can be done to sabotage a team’s success. Personally, I strive to hold strong opinions flexibly. So if someone has a better idea or approach, I’ll be the first to champion for them, once I start to understand it.

This isn’t a fully formed thought. Just something that’s been on my mind for a while. I’d love to hear your feedback on what you’ve done to improve team communication and collaboration where you’re at.


Some light reading from the archives.