The most valuable and impactful work is done through others and not through the strivings of just one person. In the tech industry, creating customer value is a really complicated process and involves the efforts of different people, teams, and perspectives.
Consider a SaaS company: in order for it to be successful, groups like Engineering, Customer Success, Sales, Marketing, and Finance all need to exist and work together in tandem to create a product that generates a reliable and increasing source of revenue that outpaces the overhead to build and maintain it.
From a more local DevOps/SRE perspective, the players change. Software engineers, QA, operations, infosec, product managers, support personnel, and even technical writers all have to work well together and have their voices equally heard in decision-making.
However, that doesn’t happen naturally.
How can these teams, composed of different perspectives, goals, and incentives, work well together and move in the same direction, especially during a crisis?
This article provides some advice from personal experience on how to successfully foster cross-functional collaboration between teams as an engineer or a leader to move mountains in your organization.
Show the big picture with an RFC
Assume you wish to drive a large initiative at your company that is essential to long-term success but requires a huge change to technology and process. How do you start?
First, you will need a clear understanding of how your initiative is going to create a real impact on the business at large. How will it increase revenue, reduce costs, or improve the customer experience? How can these results be measured? And finally, what specific steps need to be taken?
A great vehicle to accomplish this is by authoring a Request for Comments(RFC) for discussion and building consensus. An RFC is a document that clearly describes the problem to solve, and the what, where, who, why, and how on addressing it. A good template to start with when writing RFCs is available here.
A litmus test for RFCs: does it clearly describe the benefits of the initiative to a member of leadership in their language? Without this, you won’t have their support in getting multiple teams involved.
(Hint: most of the time, they measure things in terms of time and money.)
Listen, empathize, and understand incentives
To have the right mindset in getting others to help you in a large undertaking, Janet Jackson said it best: “What have you done for me lately?”.
In other words: how will you enable your peers to succeed in their goals? What OKRs are they responsible for? What are the things that need to happen in order for them to receive a bonus, or even get promoted? If you understand what those things are and can demonstrate how you will help them towards those desired outcomes, they will be naturally motivated to get involved.
Similarly, show how inaction can negatively affect those outcomes. That will create a sense of urgency to act sooner rather than later.
Make it a point to listen carefully to those you need help from. Many teams are overworked and may initially see you as yet another person that simply wants something from them. Showing genuine care about them as people, and not just a nameless provider of a task or a service, sets you apart. For example, the operations and support teams may be under intense pressure to keep the lights on and customers happy. SWEs may be overwhelmed with technical debt or under the gun to meet a deadline. Tailor your communications with that in mind!
Sometimes things preventing collaboration can be more personal- such as individual workload, team stresses, or organizational dysfunction. Being creative in how to remove obstacles can make all the difference when trying to get a team’s buy-in to help you.
Break down silos
The perception shift needed for cross-functional collaboration to work is for everyone to see themselves as part of the same team rather than a group of silos that are just happening to work on similar projects.
To break down silos, work can be organized under one roadmap and even assigned to a single short-lived team composed of members of each participating department.
There is no one way to accomplish this; the point is to not allow existing team structures to dictate how work is organized or done.
Enable effective communication
Ensure that there are multiple, frequent, and effective ways for these teams to communicate with each other allowing for the flow of information. The same tools that make remote work and collaboration effective will be useful, such as video conferencing (eg: Zoom) and chat apps (eg: Slack). Create dedicated chatrooms (and to a lesser extent, periodic meetings) to ensure that context is shared with everyone involved. Establish processes to moderate live discussions to ensure that all attendees have the freedom to contribute and be heard.
It is also important to periodically poll for feedback using 1-1s and swiftly address interpersonal conflicts when they arise and are small in order to keep communication free and open.
Finally, celebrate the small wins and make sure everyone is being recognized for their contributions- especially the teams that are typically marginalized.
Major change can’t be achieved alone! Enabling cross-functional collaboration using techniques such as authoring clear proposals, understanding the motivations and challenges of the people involved, and effective use of project management and collaboration tools and processes can create a result where everyone is working together towards a common goal.
This skill is essential when driving organizational and cultural transformations, which is one of Certo Modo’s specialties! Schedule a call if you need assistance leading change in your organization!
(Image Credit: Fauxels)