Establishing Effective Collaboration Within a Product Development Team

Establishing Effective Collaboration Within a Product Development Team

Bradley Vanderstarren

Anastasia Starovoytova

Content Manager

An engaged and collaborative team is key for every successful product. Software development teams vary in complexity, composition and geographical distribution, but what they all have in common is that the established practices of team collaboration are critical for increasing productivity and innovation.

This article explores a number of collaboration-fostering practices that are highly effective.

Communicate Your Product Goals

Effective Collaboration Communicate Goals | Satellite Article

Effective collaboration starts with building an understanding of the goals and objectives of the product that the team is working on. The business purpose should be communicated in detail – not only to project managers, but to every designer, software developer, analyst and tester on the development team. Everyone should know the broader context from the start, to put their work in context. Communication of the goals should be transparent, direct and clear for all the participants in order to build trust within the team, achieve unity and bring people together.

A good practice to establish is reminding the team of the business goals as often as possible. Strategies and goals may evolve and adjust, and everybody should be kept updated in order to collaborate effectively with their teammates and work in a streamlined manner. Sharing this information keeps the team motivated and working towards a common purpose, reduces wasted effort on low-priority features and promotes a proactive approach towards working together.

Smaller team goals and individual goals are very important to set and talk through as well. It allows translation of bigger ideas to a personal level and helps every team member understand that his or her specific input is a step made on the way to common success.

Define Responsibilities

Effective Collaboration Define Responsibilities | Satellite Article

Clearly defining responsibilities is the next step towards building great collaboration within a team. Together with setting individual goals, marking the distinct areas of individual responsibility is a way of bringing a sense of belonging, ownership and achievement to every single team member. People should feel they are making a contribution and that their input is important and valuable.

Communicating the defined responsibilities to the team helps leaders achieve the following goals:

  • Planning the tasks and building a timeline
  • Facilitating team members’ understanding with whom to work closely
  • Increasing productivity by aligning responsibilities with individual strengths of team members
  • Managing individual team members (helping them keep up the morale, recognizing their achievements, deconstructing reasons for failure and helping fix it, etc.)
  • Keeping people accountable for the work they are doing

There are a number of methods for defining responsibilities including the popular RACI matrix,a simple and effective way to break down each team member’s responsibilities and allocate who is responsible for tasks, review, decision making and planning.

Setting Expectations

Effective Collaboration Define Expectations | Satellite Article

Just like assigning responsibilities, setting clear expectations for the team and each individual teammate’s work is another important step. These expectations can be discussed even before a team member is hired.

We suggest talking about the standards of collaboration that people will be asked to adhere to at a job interview or during onboarding. This way they will be able to distinguish between personal and collective responsibility, as well as understand and do what they are asked to.

Defining the expectations may also work the other way around - team members should be encouraged to explain their expectations from their managers and colleagues.

Establishing this process in a team brings everybody on the same page, allows for managing group dynamics and avoiding potential conflicts.

Effective Conflict Resolution

Effective Collaboration Effectively Resolve Conflicts | Satellite Article

Conflicts are unfortunately inherent to any group dynamics. They may arise from ineffective or contradictory management decisions, lack of transparency, too much competition between experienced team members, etc. All of that can be managed if noticed and taken care of at the right time.

Common conflict resolution practices include speaking with both parties involved in the conflict, concentrating mainly on what happened rather than on personalities. It is crucial to define what people agree and disagree about and work towards finding common ground and ways to reach a mutual understanding. Identify what is most important to resolve in the conflict and set up the discussions to work through the problematic areas. Spend as much time discussing areas of conflict as needed for the successful resolution maintaining a positive attitude.

The responsibility of managing bigger conflicts belongs to a team lead in most cases. Learning the individual character of each team member and managing negativity at the point when it is still possible to fix the situation is essential for building a successful product. Smaller conflicts may be handled on an individual level by team members themselves without any harmful consequences to the team dynamics.

All in all, it’s important to remember that conflict is normal, but must be handled quickly and with care. Be open to listening to people’s opinions and it will be possible to transform any conflict into a constructive step towards building a stronger team.

Sharing Knowledge and Experience

Sharing knowledge with colleagues can open vast opportunities for collaboration and learning, which is a very efficient way of accelerating overall development. Hours spent on researching and finding out how to resolve a work problem could transform into minutes of discussion and finding a solution in an environment where knowledge sharing is a part of collaboration culture.

Moreover, discussing and sharing success stories is as important as discussing and sharing failure. Learning from mistakes and brainstorming the ways to solve problems are the ways to gain profit out of negative moments.

Effective ways to foster knowledge sharing include:

  • Leading By Example: Your team leaders and experienced colleagues should be open to teaching and assisting junior colleagues
  • Promoting Knowledge Sharing: As simple as it sounds, it actually works when people say they are open to helping with advice
  • Building Work-Related Content: Use document sharing tools to create a library with relevant and current materials (see some examples of document sharing tools in the next chapter)
  • Being Approachable: Coffee spots and common areas can serve as great spaces for unplanned discussions

Building a knowledge sharing culture within a team helps create a collaborative atmosphere, increase the team’s performance and strengthen professional relationships.

Great Collaboration Tools

Collaboration software is changing the ways teams work together. Until just recently there were limited options for enabling a collaborative work process. In many cases, a lack of technology negatively affected the whole product development process, especially if parts of one team were located at a great distance.

“We did a tremendous amount of work by phone in the 90s,” said Jorge Calderon, one of Satellite’s co-founders. “We needed to make sure that people on the other end of the line were focused on making every minute a useful minute. In some cases, we were sure that we worked with highly professional people who wouldn’t be wasting time. In other cases, we weren’t sure that a person we talked to was paying attention or was not writing a letter on the side.

Video conferences change the dialogue. I can tell what the other person is doing, I can assess whether they understand me or pay attention. To me the collaboration technology, the video link made a huge difference. It made the process more effective, more transparent, more flexible.” 

The importance of great collaboration tools becomes even more critical when an in-house team is working closely with a remote or offshore team, and it’s crucial to have consistent communication established and have information transparently shared and updated.

Today, an abundance of collaboration tools help product development teams to establish highly effective processes of task management, monitoring and communication with the team and the stakeholders. Every company can build a powerful collaboration tool infrastructure that is comfortable to use and supports product development teams to the fullest with no regard to the team’s size or geographic location of its members.

Here are some examples of population collaboration tools:

  • Communication and Video Chat: Google Hangouts, Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams
  • Project Management: Jira, Confluence, Trello, Asana, Teamwork, Notion
  • Document Sharing: Google Docs, Dropbox, Confluence
  • Calendar Sharing: Google Calendar, Outlook
  • Design & Prototyping: Figma, InVision, Sketch

When selecting a collaboration tool, we advise you to review the following conditions:

  • The tool allows for the process of collaboration to be structured when the team grows
  • External users are allowed to view the product development progress
  • The tool can be integrated with other systems

Team Building Activities

One more effective method for establishing good team collaboration is building strong personal relationships and spending quality time together outside working hours.  

Workplaces can put some restrictions on establishing open and effective communication as well as on bonding and forming positive relations with colleagues. Bringing the team together in an informal and more relaxed atmosphere may help overcome psychological barriers for team members and therefore increase collaboration. For example, a formal work environment and relationships could stop more introverted team members from sharing professional opinions with more experienced colleagues.

Informal team building and team events can contribute a lot to freeing working relationships from tensions and undiscussed issues, and help establish healthy team dynamics. Out-of-office events for a team are a definite recommendation of ours for ensuring better engagement and collaboration.

The Bottom Line

Collaboration drives productivity for the teams that actively work together. Communicating, clearly setting goals and expectations, knowledge sharing and team building are crucial for establishing and maintaining effective collaboration. It is critically important to build a strong infrastructure of collaboration tools and adjust it to the communication patterns that arise within each individual team.

Teams that practice and reinvent collaboration methods and approaches are scalable and effective, and while conflicts are inevitable they can lead to improvement rather than stagnation. Implement these practices into your team’s routines and you won’t be waiting long for amazing results!

Anastasia Starovoytova

Content Manager

Anastasia is the Content Manager at Satellite, covering technology, effective team building and latest IT news.

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