The Art of Cross Team Collaboration

08-31-22 Louisa Barrett

Want to be an effective Product Champion? Learn the “languages” of those around you and get a grasp on what your colleagues do. You don’t need to be an expert, but you need to have more than just a cursory knowledge.

How do you support people across different internal and external teams when you may not have mastery of their specialties? As a Product Champion, leveraging the skillsets of individuals to create a strong, collaborative product strategy and solutions is a critical skill. However, building up an understanding of each role on a team (let alone more than one) takes time.

Becoming Conversational

Let’s consider—for a moment—spoken languages. Say you’re traveling to a country where the spoken language isn’t one you speak. How might you prepare for the trip? If you’re set to travel in only a few days, maybe you’ll focus on memorizing some common and useful phrases. If the trip is a few months away, perhaps you’ll actually take a crack at learning a bit of the local language itself, and aim to more easily connect with people you meet on your journey. In this second scenario, the goal is to become conversational, but not necessarily fluent—not an expert, but not skimming the surface either.

You may find when you arrive at your destination that it’s not too difficult to find people who speak the language you are most comfortable communicating in. However, when you start interactions with an honest, thoughtful effort to engage people using their native language, they are more likely to reciprocate in equally honest, thoughtful, and open ways.

People want to be seen and heard. When you show someone that their native language is appreciated, valued, and worth the time it takes to learn, they generally respond positively.

These concepts of valuing others, reaching out to them using their own language, and respecting their unique place in the world are not relegated to travel. The same is true with your teammates across an organization, too. When you make an effort to understand the nuances and challenges of the roles the members on your teams fill, they appreciate it. This in turn helps you manage the work being done by those teams more effectively.

Conversational at the Office

As a Product Champion, it is unlikely you will have to fulfill all the duties of all the people on your teams. However, investing in your ability to be “conversational” in roles amongst your teams allows you to be proactively responsive to their needs.

Your increased insight means being able to understand, and empathize with, each member of each team—you will gain insight into what it takes to perform each role. You’ll find you have an increased ability to be ahead of the curve when anticipating blockers while asking better questions and more quickly absorbing what you’re hearing from one team or another. Becoming conversational in this way reinforces that you aren’t only championing a product, you are championing the people who make up the teams you’re on.

Being intentional about understanding the skills of your colleagues to the point of total fluency is not the goal. You want to build up an understanding about the skills of those around you within your own time limits—don’t feel pressured to do so in a manner that detrimentally pulls you from your own valuable areas of expertise. Finding the right balance between building your understanding while setting boundaries with your time is the path to follow. You will have the benefit of increased understanding and connection with your teams without sacrificing growth in your own career track.

Starting the Conversation Across Teams

A deepened understanding of your team’s expertise provides beneficial insight for a Product Champion, but this type of intentional context building also helps folks on different teams collaborate more effectively.

At Sparkbox, we use organization-wide learning groups to provide all disciplines access to learning opportunities on a range of topics, such as UX and accessibility. These opportunities can be established as one-off lightning talks or longer-term study groups. Topics explored don’t need to be mastery-level concepts or fully original content, either.

Providing high-level and context-building material is a great way to build awareness for people who may not ever be directly responsible for this work day-to-day. These learning breaks are an interesting way to switch gears during the work day, and the fresh perspective might even help to unblock a current issue faced on a project. The opportunity for growth isn’t one-sided, either: Teaching entry-level concepts on a subject you’re an expert in can be an eye-opening experience and a fantastic refresher of the foundational skills that may feel second nature to you.

The form these continued learning resources take can be adapted to suit the interests of each team, allowing for initiative owners to use scalable approaches they enjoy and have bandwidth for. Maybe it’s a book club or perhaps lunch-and-learn sessions. There are no wrong answers! The main goal is to celebrate and share the skills of the team.

Let’s Invest in the Conversation

When traveling to places with languages that you don’t speak, making an effort to learn the language leads to quicker and more sincere connections. Similarly, as a Product Champion, investing in your conversational understanding of the roles and skills of those in your organization provides a host of benefits. By becoming conversational in the varied and valued skill sets found within the teams you work with, you can increase your ability to build trust with individuals, create empathy across teams, and develop great products all the while evolving from Product Champion to People Champion. This elevates not only the end product but also the people involved in pushing the product forward.

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