Collaboration Is Key.
Collaboration, although not often discussed, is a key component for professional and personal growth that translates well into healthy team dynamics. These dynamics may look very different depending on an organization’s size and structure, but the underlying importance of healthy collaboration remains the same.
Enterprise organizations offer a lot of insight into healthy team dynamics, and although each company may not be able to achieve their model at scale, their methods are worth noting. As a part of their culture, they keep affected teams involved in the decision making process and share important project details throughout the life of a project. By designating a representative for each group, it helps to ensure that each team’s concerns and/or roadblocks are addressed early on, instead of when it’s too late.
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In contrast, smaller Startups often require more fluidity and many are required to wear multiple hats. When doing so, checks and balances may be sacrificed in favor of ‘getting things done’. While it may be great to have one point person for these items, working individually on multiple tasks and under tight deadlines can often create tunnel vision. In these scenarios, it is equally important to check in with other team members to bounce ideas off of one another and gather feedback/input so that important items aren’t overlooked.
Lastly, a scenario that can occur in any structure, is the creation of silos, by introducing more defined roles within specific function areas such as Engineering & Design. While having these multiple levels on a team can indeed speed things up, a lack of collaboration across these teams can definitely slow things down. Being narrowly concerned with a specific part of a process without an awareness of the entire project and how your role impacts others can lead to other issues. Therefore it is imperative to keep all key players abreast and involved throughout your project lifecycle. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to sit in meetings all day, it simply means that keeping communication and collaboration pathways open in all environments should be an intentional practice.
Make Collaboration A General Practice.
Imagine, you are an UX designer and have spent weeks working with stakeholders, gathering requirements and validating your design decisions. You’ve also already gotten buy-in from the stakeholders, developers, and product team and are pretty confident that your designs are ready to go. You’ve completed your tasks and it’s now time to hand off your designs to an Art Director for the final fit and finish. Sounds great right? It could be, except this time it is not. You see, the Art Director wasn’t included in any of the previous conversations. They do not know the requirements or the limitations of the application. They are spread thin on multiple projects and have joined in this final phase to simply do their job, which is to make this application look good. You aren’t worried because you were pretty specific in your wireframe specifications and you know that they are excellent at their job. Except, there is one problem.
Right before your client meeting for final sign off, you receive the application designs back from the Art Director with a few modifications. There have been some widget selection changes for aesthetic reasons, which may have been ok in other scenarios, but you’ve already went to great lengths to explain to the client why these types of widgets aren’t possible, and now the new application designs undermine what you previously said. The new widgets don’t match the behavior you proposed and simply won’t work. The Art Director doesn’t understand why this is a problem and is now frustrated. Now you must spend additional time defending your design decisions to the Art Director who wasn’t privy to the intended behavior and/or technical limitations (ie. radio vs. checkbox or single dropdown when you need a multiselect scroll list). This isn’t the Art Director’s fault since they did what they do best, but now you have to go into the meeting and explain why the new application designs are different from what the client was expecting. You’ve simply run out of time and now you look bad.
Bringing someone into a process close to the end without informing them of everything that’s happened already is a recipe for disaster, especially when they play such a pivotal role. This entire scenario could have been avoided via more effective collaboration. Specifically, adequate communication that makes all decisions transparent. We must learn how to effectively collaborate. Instead of just handing over your wireframes, you could have given the Art Director a quick demo of how it works, or provided some workflows for them to gain a better understanding. You could have also explained the sequence of decisions and how they were made. At that point, the Art Director could have provided suggestions and insights and you could have helped inform their thinking around design elements. These simple collaborative efforts could have produced more optimal results.
Know Who to Collaborate With.
Wondering who you should collaborate with? The answer to this is simple: everyone. Okay, not really everyone. You don’t necessarily need to collaborate with the VP of Engineering when you are in QA, however, who you collaborate with on any given day may change. Perhaps you are working on a bug that you think is a priority and you are having trouble getting the rest of the team on board. A simple conversation with a VP to discuss the use case and get their initial thoughts on whether or not they believe it is a big deal can go a long way. This conversation could even take place in passing. Collaboration doesn’t mean you have to have a long drawn out sit down, it just means you need to work together for a common goal to create a unified solution.
When working on products there are a lot of players with each team playing a pivotal role in the successful launch of the product or offering. Usually in Enterprise environments there are enough people in the food chain to allow a certain set of people to be stuck in meetings 75% of the day while the others are in the trenches doing implementation work. Startups on the other hand may not have this luxury. Key players may be required to wear multiple hats and represent several aspects, which can feel like over collaborating at times, making it hard to get work done without isolation. This makes it very easy to get caught in a silo of being narrowly focused on specific deliverables. By finding balance, the necessary collaboration can still take place and not slow the process down.
Collaborating doesn’t mean you don’t get to have a say in what you create, it just insures that what you are creating fits into the overall vision of the product. When working on a project, make sure that the entire team is abreast of what is going on. If you are a PM, make sure Dev and UX understands the business goals behind your requirements. If you are in UX, make sure you understand the tech stack and run your ideas by Dev to insure your ideas are technically feasible within the schedule. If you are in Design, make sure you understand the inner workings of the system that you will be designing for. You don’t have to know how to code, but you need to understand how things work. If you are in QA, work with Dev and UX to understand their use cases so that your test scripts are inline with proper functionality and you aren’t entering bugs against things that are behaving as designed. There are many ways to collaborate, even if just over tea. The key is to be intentional, inclusive and to always keep others informed.
Instead of day long face-to-face meetings, teams can get creative and communicate electronically, real-time or in set intervals. Tools such as Slack can help you stay focused while allowing ad-hoc conversations as needed to provide input or insights. Other users can tag you when they need you to dive in real-time, making resolutions much quicker. Some typical key players of a cross-functional team are usually Design, Development, Marketing, Product, and QA. When these teams come together and play nicely, releases are much more cohesive.
Maintain Human Contact.
Remote positions are becoming increasingly more common. While it is true that working remotely has its perks, lets face it, your dog isn’t going to offer you a ton of valuable feedback. Therefore, it is key to remember the importance of linking up with and supporting our teams. When working from home we must be intentional about how we connect and collaborate with our teams. Not only must we make sure that we have a handle on our deliverables, we also need to know what is at stake as a unit and how our input will impact that. There are several ways to work remotely and still stay in touch. Here are a few suggestions of how you can work together, even while working alone:
- Have daily standups via Slack or Zoom. A daily standup works wonders. A short 15 minutes a day can keep you in touch with your team provide a platform for you to voice what items may be holding you back, and allow you to get timely support from your team members.
- Send out scheduled status emails. Transparency across teams helps keep projects moving smoothly. Communication at least once a week is usually enough to keep everyone abreast of ongoing work.
- Create open lines of communication. Having an open door policy allows team members from different groups to build relationships. It is priceless for a UX Designer to be able to link up with a Developer and run ideas by them. Understanding the tech stack and how design decisions may impact the system as a whole can alleviate a lot of wasted time on solutions that are out of scope or budget.
- Connect face to face. Nothing beats face to face interaction. If you can’t go into the office realistically, try virtual coworking together with project counterparts or face to face check-ins from time to time. Working alongside someone online and setting goals for that time together has proven to be very productive, as well as just setting a time to bounce ideas off one another. It helps with accountability.
- Go to a coworking location. Sometimes just being around others and the hustle and bustle of their energy helps you to collaborate with your team better. It gets your creative juices flowing and you show up more for your own team as a result.
Lastly, there is no better time like the present to start collaborating. This intentional act of idea and positive energy sharing can work wonders for not only your work, but also your personal lives. You are not an island, so don’t behave like one. Start collaborating today.
Key points to remember…
- Collaborating doesn’t require you to lose your freedom. In retrospect, it frees you up from the burden of having all of the answers. Feedback is essential.
- Remote workers can collaborate too. Most roles do not require you to be face-to-face each day, but you can be in touch. Useful tools such as Slack (www.slack.com), Zoom (www.zoom.com) and Asana (www.asana.com) are just a few tools that can help you stay ultra productive and connected even when far away.
- Collaborating is key to building team rapport. The term out of site, out of mind really does apply at times. You definitely want to stay in touch with your team, offer insights to conversations and help provide solutions outside of what you are ‘required’ to do. Being a part of a team means just that.
- Interfacing with other teams helps you create well informed solutions. So much time can be lost when there is a disconnect regarding requirements, technologies and priorities. Collaboration helps you avoid that.
- Collaborating is an essential ingredient to teamwork. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”~African Proverb.