Establishing Effective Collaboration Within a Product Development Team

Establishing Effective Collaboration Within a Product Development Team

July 22, 2020

Bradley Vanderstarren

Anastasia Starovoytova

Content Manager

Conway’s Law states that organizations tend to design systems or products that are reflective of the communication structures within the organization. Goods or services that are developed by loosely coupled organizations are significantly more modular than goods and services designed or produced by tightly coupled organizations.

This finding is not insignificant. The right team and effective communications – within the organization and externally – are among crucially important factors for a business. Having an engaged team that openly shares feedback, suggestions, constructive criticism is essential to effectively deliver software products and services on time and within budget.

Software product development teams vary in complexity, composition, and geographical distribution, but what they all have in common is the need for defined and effective communication practices to improve productivity and encourage innovation.

Here we discuss a few best practices you can adopt to foster team cohesion and promote effective collaboration within your organization – irrespective of where your teams are located.

Communicate Goals

Effective Collaboration Communicate Goals | Satellite Article

Effective collaboration is only possible when everyone on the team knows what they must work on. This will give them the context they need as to where they fit in the bigger picture and how their work contributes to the organization’s success. Team leaders should transparently and directly communicate desired goals and objectives – as well as success metrics and desired outcomes, which we discuss in more detail below.

To make sure everyone is on the same page and knows and understands what is expected and required of them, make sure to remind and reiterate your team about business goals, values, and mission often. Software development work is fluid; team members must be able to adjust and pivot if market dynamics, business goals, or adopted strategies change, and they can only do this if relevant information is shared clearly and regularly. Doing this can also motivate your team to look at the bigger picture and strive for something more beyond a simple paycheck.

Most early hires at startups join promising ventures with more than money in mind. They want to make a difference, solve a challenging problem, or do things more quickly, cheaply, and effectively. If your business goals align with these needs – and are communicated as such – this can substantively hypercharge your team’s motivation.

Define Responsibilities

Effective Collaboration Define Responsibilities | Satellite Article

Just as an organization must work on a clearly defined goal or address a specific market need, individuals within the organization must have clearly defined responsibilities if they are to be part of the larger initiative. Set up individual goals and mark distinct areas of individual responsibility to give everyone a sense of ownership and belonging – as well as achievement when goals or objectives are met. People can only work well together when they feel that their work is needed and is important in the larger scheme of things. 

In addition to motivation and developing worker buy-in to your overarching goals, having clearly defined responsibilities for individual team members will help in:

  • Planning tasks and meeting delivery timelines.
  • Streamline communication channels based on resource needs or help with overcoming challenges.
  • Increasing worker productivity by assigning tasks and deliverables based on worker competencies.
  • Managing your teams, since it is easier to boost a worker’s morale, laud his or her achievements, and understand reasons for failure when the task in question is clear.
  • Maintaining accountability for assigned tasks.

An easy way to define responsibilities is by using the RACI matrix which defines who is Responsible for a task, who is Accountable, who must be Consulted with regards to a task (which helps in, for example, troubleshooting or expediting approvals), and who must be Informed about the task so that all relevant workers and resources are up to date and in the loop concerning ongoing team deliverables.

Define Expectations

Effective Collaboration Define Expectations | Satellite Article

It is not enough to know what company or individual goals are or to know what your responsibilities are. Everyone must be told what is expected of them and what defines the successful completion of a task and what constitutes a failure.

Expectations are often outlined in a job description, but it can take other forms, such as meeting growth milestones, delivering code of a certain quality, or becoming a mentor for others. Team members should be encouraged to share what they expect from their role, and the company can, in turn, outline comprehensive expectations of the engineer so that everyone is on the same page. This can help preempt issues with group dynamics or conflict, should they arise. 

Effectively Resolve Conflicts

Effective Collaboration Effectively Resolve Conflicts | Satellite Article

Many things can cause or contribute to conflicts within a team. First and foremost, unclear goals, undefined responsibilities, and undefined expectations can lead to issues down the road when management has one criterion of success in mind and workers have another. However, even if you get those factors right, conflicts can still arise from incoherent team building, poor management, a lack of transparency, and misaligned team incentives.

To resolve conflicts, talk to both sides and discuss the issue at hand – not the parties themselves. Clearly define what both parties agree and disagree on to establish some common ground to work toward a mutually acceptable solution. Identify what compromises – if any – need to be made in the interest of the greater good and seek feedback about what the organization could have done to circumvent potential issues from arising in the future.

It is easier for team leaders to address and manage issues of conflict when they know their team members and how group dynamics play out within a given team structure. Conflict is normal and it can even be healthy – if it is identified and addressed in time – because it can help the organization steer clear of potentially detrimental team collaboration issues down the road. 

Sharing Knowledge and Experience

A-grade engineers want to learn and grow. Few high-caliber engineers are in it just for the money. This places a lot of emphasis on knowledge sharing with and between coworkers and colleagues. With friendly, open, and effective communication channels, junior workers can tap into the skills, experience, and expertise of more seasoned workers and substantially cut down research and problem-solving time, and this will have a direct impact on your bottom line over the long run.

In addition to knowledge sharing, sharing success and failure is also an important part of your team’s social makeup. Learning from mistakes can help your team brainstorm better ways to address an issue, thereby making negative moments positive for your company as a whole.

Knowledge can be effectively shared in the following ways:

  • When team leaders lead by example and are available to teach and help others.
  • Promote the idea of knowledge sharing. If you tell people that sharing is good and is encouraged, they will be more inclined to do so. 
  • Build an internal knowledge repository that everyone can access.
  • Promote in-office discussions and collaboration with a social-friendly layout, common areas, breakout rooms, and defined time slots for brainstorming or networking.

By promoting a knowledge-sharing culture in this way, you can develop a healthy and collaborative atmosphere within your organization, improve the effectiveness of your teams, and strengthen the professional relationships between your team members.

Effective Collaboration Tools

Collaboration software has radically changed the way teams work together. Thanks to advancements in voice, data, video, and real-time collaboration solutions, we can now connect more effectively than we had ever been able to in the past. These developments are especially important because of the nature of remote work today and the great distances that often separate geographically disparate teams located in different parts of the world.

According to Mr. Jorge Calderon, Member of the Board of Directors at Seer Capital, Senior Leadership Member at Deutsche Bank, video telecommunications proved to be a huge leap forward from conducting business by phone. “It made the process more effective, more transparent, more flexible,” he says.

Other online solutions such as screen sharing, document sharing, code reviewing, interviewing, hiring, and teleconferencing have also drastically changed the way we do business. These solutions have helped teams expand their global footprint, collaborate more effectively with more people in real-time, and ramp up their output and deliverables – all while effectively and efficiently managing communications, worker availability, team cohesion, and system downtimes.

Popular tools in this regard include:

  • Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Slack for communications and video chat.
  • Jira, Confluence, Trello, Asana, Teamwork, and Notion for project management. 
  • Google Docs, Dropbox, and Confluence for document sharing. 
  • Google Calendar and Outlook for meetings and scheduling.
  • Figma and InVision for design and prototyping.

Team Building

A great way to foster team cohesion, mutual respect, alignment with shared goals, and effective collaboration is to build a good team comprised of people who share common interests, are interpersonally compatible, and have the opportunities to build rapport with each other. 

By their very nature, offices and workplaces restrict how, when, and to what degree team members can bond and develop positive relations amongst each other. Team outings to more informal and relaxed environs can help lower psychological inhibitions and remove any barriers to team communications and collaboration with little upfront effort. 

Informal team-building practices can also help team members work around sensitive issues and build healthier team dynamics. Out-of-office events are highly recommended, as are in-office events such as birthday celebrations, gift pools, an office fantasy league, or more constructive initiatives such as sponsoring a charity or friendly competition in doing social good.

The Bottom Line

The productivity of your teams is directly proportional to how effectively everyone on the team can communicate and collaborate. Clear and transparent communication, clearly defined goals and expectations, knowledge sharing, and team building are all crucial for establishing and maintaining effective collaboration. You must build an efficient, scalable, flexible, and cost-effective collaboration infrastructure that meets your communication and collaboration needs and can be adjusted as needed based on changing needs, and just as important is having a dedicated software development team that can make the most of those tools and deliver the results that you are looking for.

Anastasia Starovoytova

Content Manager

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

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