Improving Collaboration Between Cross-Functional Teams as a New Manager
23 December, 2021
Acquiring Two Teams with a Lack of Collaboration
At one of my previous companies, I led a development experience team working on product solutions for developer problems. We were building things such as sandbox, documentation, logging, access management, and onboarding software. There was also a technical writing team responsible for making the documentation easier to digest and act upon. Given that the two teams had similar goals, naturally, the collaboration started to feel more and more like a negotiation exercise.
At one point, the chief product officer that both teams reported became tired of the debate and combined both departments. The decision was made for me to lead the combined team, with the head of technical writing and their team reporting to me, with the hope that organizational alignment will resolve these conflicts. The day the chief product officer announced this, however, the technical writing team lead unexpectedly left our company.
Mitigating Management Mistakes
Coming to Realizations:
I went from being excited about alignment and collaboration to nervous about being responsible for a team with which I had limited knowledge or rapport. To be straightforward, at that particular moment I was first terrified and doubted my ability to take this on. I decided to stay with the team and knew that I would become a stronger and more versatile leader if I went through this challenge.
Starting to Manage:
I started to try and manage the writing team the same way I led my product managers. I tried the same techniques, processes, and evaluation criteria. Within the first week, I realized that the team didn’t comprehend what I was saying, and these techniques didn’t work outside of product management.
Both teams had different expectations of their roles. To fill the gaps, I decided to appoint one of the writers as a temporary manager. I made this decision unanimously, without asking any of the team, and later learned that the writers didn’t want to report to this person. Back to back, two major difficulties were blocking the success of these teams.
Mitigating the Challenges:
To try and ramp up the teams and move away from the mistakes I made, I met with each individual and personally apologized. I let them know that I was in over my head with this role, but I was dedicated and committed to the team.
I started to engage with each team member, learning their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. Together we created one-pagers that detailed their preferences about interaction with others. My team began having team-wide meetings, as well as lunches together to get to know each other personally as well as professionally.
It took me around seven months, but finally, I arrived at a point where the team trusted me. They saw that I was overwhelmed but advocated for them. I showed my dedication through actions rather than making promises and, in the end, earned a rapport with these individuals.
Product Management and Rapport
- As you get more senior into product management, your role becomes more generalized. You begin to make decisions on executive hiring, buying software, and increasing velocity. Instead of features, your focus is now on organizational dynamics.
- Implement one-pagers if you are trying to get to know your team members better. They are essential in understanding how to communicate best with each individual and learn about them on a personal level.
- As you lead diverse teams, ensure your strategy is broad enough that it aligns everyone under the vision, but with enough specificity so that each team member feels critical to the success of the overall team.
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Individual Contributors are familiar with a technical development framework that helps them with building products. Managers, especially new managers can leverage a parallel framework to help them build their teams while drawing analogies from an already familiar framework.
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