For the last ten years, my work has required intense collaboration across many internal divisions many external companies and teams. In almost all of these scenarios, I’ve had no authority over the people I’ve worked with. However, I’ve been responsible for delivering software, programs, and integrations that bring value to the organization. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Build Relationships of Trust
Good relationships have been my most valuable asset in my work. I’m not just talking about getting people to like you. It is important to build trust. People need to:
- Trust that your intentions are pure. You do this by being genuine and by having no hidden agendas.
- Trust that you are competent. This may require studying up on things outside of your job role, asking lots of questions, finding the experts and listening to what they have to say.
- Trust that you will do what you say you are going to do. Get quick wins with other teams by following up on commitments in a timely manner.
When people trust you, they listen to what you have to say. A relationship of trust is crucial when you begin establishing a joint vision.
Establish a Joint Vision
Whether it is large initiative or a small project, it is important for those involved to understand what it is you are trying to accomplish and why it matters. For example, “We need to launch a new developer portal that will do the following things… It should something like… The reason this is important is because it will…”
Before teams take will take action, or before management funds the project with dollars or priority, people need to feel that there is a sense of urgency. The urgency needs to be real and not fabricated. People see through fabricated urgency really easily. Again, this points to establishing and maintaining trust with everyone you work with.
Define Clear Objectives and Milestones
When clear objectives and milestones are defined, things move. Without them, you spin your wheels. I’ve experienced plenty of spin which could have been avoidable if I had just established milestones. I like putting names on certain milestones and then breaking down the things that need to be done to hit that. The names don’t need to be fancy, but need to be something memorable that can be referenced in conversation.
- “Thin thread validation”
- “Phase 1 Pilot release”
- “Phase 1 Production release”
Put a date on when you plan to hit the phase. I don’t like setting dates. It makes me feel pressure. It raises people’s stress levels. However, this is a healthy tension that helps keep urgency and movement on accomplishing the mission. Sometimes dates slip. That’s okay in my mind as long as you can see you adjust ahead of time and keep expectations set appropriately.
Communicate with your team members frequently. This can be done through Slack conversations, phone calls, face-to-face, stand-ups, etc. There are a ton of ways to keep communication alive with your collaborators. I’ve found that face-to-face communication is really valuable.
Be Present in Physical Space
Our organization is split between two cities. One city has all of the product management and engineering teams, the other has the business operations and partnering teams. In order to help build some of the relationships with the product management and engineering teams, I try to work at least one day per week in their office. Fortunately, in their office, there are some cubicles set aside for visitors. This is a more inconvenient work location. I don’t have my multiple monitors, my phone, all of my desk supplies, etc. However, it is well worth it to work in that location because I get to hear the back-channel conversations, say “Hi” to people in the hallways, play Ultimate Frisbee, and eat lunch with engineers in the cafeteria. I can white-board with team members, easily look over a shoulder to help work through a complex problem, and empathize with the other issues these team members may be dealing with. This is all part of building trust.
Keep Management Informed
It is always helpful to keep management informed of the progress, roadblocks, etc. as you progress through your project. This is especially important when the news isn’t good or you’ve run into problems.
I’ve found that having open communication around problems is especially good in building trust with management. However, management usually doesn’t want to hear the problems in order to solve them. Management typically wants to also see that you have some recommendations on how it might be solved. At times, there are problems that can only be solved by upper management and I’ve found that my directors have been happy to help in coming to a solution.
Serve Other People
This may come across as preachy, but I’ve seriously found that if I’m willing to jump in and help someone else out with a problem, help is reciprocated at a later time.
I recognize that a lot of what I’ve put here seems obvious. This has been a worthwhile exercise for me and that is who I’m writing for.