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🧐 Product leader's role in building trust
What it takes to be successful when working on a cross-functional project
👋🏻 Helen here with our weekly Sunday newsletter. I have been busy working on a major cross-functional initiative at work that got released a few weeks ago. This work has received a lot of praise - not just for the impact it delivered but for the work the team did to bring a large set of stakeholders together in a matrixed organization to achieve the right outcome for the business. Many people are asking what process we followed so that they could pattern match for their big project.
As I have been reflecting on this question, I am convinced that leaders and people managers have to be actively modeling behaviors that encourage building trust on an ongoing basis with each other and their teams in order to succeed.
In the case of the project that I participated in, despite the fact that we were aligned on the business impact and the “why” of the work, as leaders, we had to play a big role in helping the teams build trust in order to be successful.
Below I outline the types of problems that we faced - hopefully abstracting them to be applicable to a broad set of scenarios and calling out what the role of a leader should be to help solve these problems.
📣 Problem: Customer team lacks trust that the product and engineering work will be prioritized in a timely manner. Here is what you can do as a leader to help:
Ensure that the broader company strategy is aligned to the initiative and hold the teams accountable to the outcome via process. Tactics: hold regular check ins, request executive level presentations, and ask for demos of progress
Align product and engineering teams to be focused and accountable on the same outcome. Tactics: re-organize the teams if you need to and hire the right people to drive the change you need
Provide ability to focus for the teams doing the work by protecting them from randomizations. Tactics: if you are in a position to triage requests - say no to as many distractions as is feasible, limit scope creep especially from leadership, provide additional resources as needed and is helpful -project management, launch support, borrow resources if helpful, get contractors if applicable
Commit (and mean it) that you will do everything in your personal and professional power to ensure that the project is a success - as a leader, you are in the fishbowl, so how you show up, what meetings you attend and what you say matters a lot.
No one is expecting the impossible, but stakeholders want to know that you deeply care and are going to pull every lever available to you
🤟🏻 Problem: Lack of common language for problems to be solved for the customer (internal or external) and lack of understanding about how the product and engineering teams work. As a leader you can:
Create space and time for the product team to spend time with the customer teams. Tactics: joint workshops and readouts, shared design sprints, shadowing customer interactions, early adopter programs, etc.
Hold the teams accountable to present an agreed upon plan of how the product/technology investments would work within the customer’s context - whether it is a UX walk through or a process implementation.
Celebrate wins together, but also roll up your sleeves and translate miscommunications or misalignment early and often as it is easier to see the big picture for a leader than for teams on the ground
Problem: Despite aligning on success criteria, prioritization and requirements, there is still an ongoing fear that engineering will build something that may not work for the business. What you can do as a leader:
Encourage teams to work out in the open as much as possible. Tactics that help: regular sprint demos, concise and relevant status reports, clear view of risks and mitigations in place
As the leader who is in charge of prioritization and resources, remind your stakeholders that product development is iterative and ongoing. Acknowledge that the goal is not to get everything right, but build in a way that enables you to learn and iterate. Tactics: establish and agree on a customer feedback loop as well as a documented backlog of features and requests. Establish a joint planning cadence
Create psychological safety for both your teams as well as customers teams to be able to communicate and worry openly with you - whether it is concern that needs you to take action on or one that needs an empathetic ear - make time to be available and be proactive in seeking out signals.
Your job as a leader is to differentiate signal from the noise and assess what is needed to ensure the business outcome is reached.
I wish there was a magic formula that we can all use to build trust and create successful teams. If you are looking for more reading on this topic, I liked this BetterUp article outlining why trust matters and how to build it in the workplace. Additionally, Ifind myself re-visiting Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead as well as her latest podcast (in two parts) with Adam Grant and Simon Sinek talking about leadership at work and what it takes to create engaged employees at work.
Thank you for reading and for giving me the space to process my learnings in the open with our Mind the Beet community.