Elevate Performance by Championing Collaboration
As a product manager, managing your team is a complex juggling act requiring strategy, problem-solving, planning, and above all, collaboration. If you can't bring the different disciplines of your product team together and find common ground for them to work as one unit, then bringing a successful product to market will be difficult, to say the least.
Despite collaboration and open communication being the key to successful delivery, many product companies fail to bridge the gaps between teams, and have them working in silos, with only the minimum amount of communication between them.
If the building and nurturing of relationships between teams is a primary contributing factor to the success of your organisation it pays to invest in strategies that help to accomplish this goal.
Let's discuss a few of these strategies and how they can help your organisation.
Strategies to foster collaboration and open communication
Create an open non-judgmental environment
To build the best product, you need the best ideas. These ideas can come from many sources within your own organisation. The only obstacle is that they don't have a forum to be heard in.
Building an open culture where different ideas are not only tolerated, but are welcomed with open arms, is an important step in creating an open collaborative culture. Reach out to as many people, across as many disciplines as possible for brainstorming sessions. Promote the understanding that no idea will be considered bad, and no one will ever be ridiculed or put down for their ideas. All ideas should be vetted, and the best ones implemented. While it's as important to give credit to the people whose ideas were implemented, make sure that no one is discouraged from sharing their ideas, as they may have a breakthrough idea next time.
By bringing in people from different disciplines together in a brainstorming session, you unleash a rare synergy in that the ideas that come out will not be focused on a single way of thinking. This helps break down our cognitive biases and learned prejudices. Bouncing these ideas back and forth will help your team to understand the problem through many different eyes, and finally come up with an inclusive solution that works for as many people as possible.
Remove the fear of open communication
Open communication and honest feedback foster an environment of trust and camaraderie within an organisation. These factors help in building relationships between teams and furthering collaboration to organisational goals.
While there will initially be some resistance to open communication and feedback, due to previous bad experiences or learned behaviour, it is important to break down these boundaries to create an environment where both praise and criticism is taken positively and used for growth. You can help to create this environment by teaching how to
1) provide constructive criticism, and frank impersonal feedback
2) receive criticism and feedback without being defensive or taking it personally
As a product manager you can be an example for your team, by maintaining an open-door policy and encouraging your team members to collaborate with you and other teams within the organisation. Remember as an organisational leader you must teach by example and maintain open and honest collaboration across multiple boundaries.
Collaborative problem solving
Image Credit: Enrique Rubio
As a product development company, you will face many problems on your journey to bring your product to market. These problems can arise in different steps of your journey, and within different teams. However, their effect can be felt all over the organisation. Any problem takes time and effort to overcome, and this time and effort eats into your projected timeline and budget, which has an adverse effect on everyone in the organisation.
Collaborative problem solving is a great way to ensure that these problems do not get out of hand, but instead have as many people as you can, from across-the-board brainstorming on how to resolve these issues. Different expertise, life experiences, and specialisations, give people unique insights into how the world works. You will find that what may be an insurmountable problem for one, is a simple speed bump for another person.
Goal definition and alignment
Communication and collaboration are great, but they work better when people have a clear goal to work towards, something to collaborate on. Building and launching a product is no easy task, and it helps your team to have clear goals and expectations with defined deliverables set up to work towards. To avoid conflict and confusion within and between teams it's best to
Create a roadmap
Sit down with the team and discuss the project boundaries. Draw a timeline for delivery with their input and feedback. Make sure that everyone understands that a roadmap is not set in stone, but changes as new discoveries are made on the way. Encourage your team to share these discoveries as and when they become known.
Define clear goals for each phase
Set clear goals for each phase of the delivery. Your phase goals should align with the final goal of delivering your product to market. Work with your team to identify what these goals should be.
Finally, make sure that all team members are on board with the plan. There should be no conflicts and ambiguity at the end of the planning meeting (there will be, but not enough to break everything down). Encourage everyone to voice any concerns or to discuss anything they are conflicted or confused about.
As a product manager, you are as successful as your team. It’s up to you to create an environment suitable to deliver a great product. Collaboration and open communication are great ways to encourage your team to work together both within their own organisational units and within the organisation as a whole. Set expectations and examples for your team by being the kind of product manager who fosters and rewards an open culture.