Fostering Healthy Collaboration Between Teams in Different Locations

Sonya Rackwitz

Senior Product Manager at IPG Mediabrands



"This particular experience occurred while I was Product Manager for a company in which our entire developers team was offshore, and our tech, product and QA leads were all onsite. In addition to the typical challenges that can arise from working in different locations, I realized that animosity was forming between the developers and tech leads. Personality issues and competition were beginning to take a toll on our progress. Specifically, the dev team was unwilling to get behind the tech leads' decisions unless they aligned with their own beliefs. In some cases, the dev team expressed their hesitations, and the situation devolved into a debate rather than a collaboration. In other cases, the dev team found ways to quietly defy the tech leads' decisions, believing they 'knew better' and were helping the company in the long run by undermining the tech leads' authority. Trust between the teams was breaking down and healthy collaboration was consequently thwarted."

Actions taken

"I recognized how people taking things personally was affecting the team dynamic. I knew that we had to break these situations down to what was ultimately important for the company in order to resolve them and keep moving forward, so I took on the role of mediator.

First, I prioritized being present and tuning into the dynamics between team members. By participating in dailies and scrum ceremonies, for example, I was able to pick up on tension between people and steer conversations away from personal conflict and toward team progress. I did this by reframing problems and asking questions that got everyone focusing on what mattered: 'I'm recognizing that we're having a slowdown here. Let's break this down. What's going on and how can we push forward, because we need to make sure we can hit our Q3 deliverable.' Once we were sharing options with each other, we could weigh them out in terms of level of effort versus level of risk associated with them.

Additionally, I sat down with various team members to talk about the importance of earning trust by respecting tech leads, even if we fear that it means failing as a team. Voicing concerns is important, but sometimes we need to just give an idea a shot to then learn as a team that it doesn't work. Processes need to be iterative. By defying a lead's authority and covertly doing things 'your way,' you lose the lead's trust, which damages the team in the long run. By respecting and trusting a lead, even if it takes us down the wrong path, we gain their trust, and the team gains authentic insight into what works or doesn't work.

Finally, I identified the importance of connecting beyond Slack and email communications. We have since prioritized cam conferences between teams, even during day-to-day operations. Seeing the person you're working with, and picking up on their facial expressions and body language as you interact helps create relationships that are open and trusting. We are also exploring ways to physically bring team leads together to meet and chip away at the effects geographical distance have on our team dynamics."

Lessons learned

"As a manager, it is critical to interpret things objectively. You can use your objectivity to bring teams together to overcome obstacles and push forward. Create an environment where team members feel safe to share opinions and ideas because you all share the same ultimate goals. At the same time, don't micromanage: once you've set the tone and expressed the importance of honest communication and respect, trust the team to maintain it for themselves. Fail with purpose – embrace the team-learning that occurs when something doesn't work. And finally, find ways to connect and gain insight into what other teams are doing for the company."

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Sonya Rackwitz

Senior Product Manager at IPG Mediabrands

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