You write code. Or maybe you talk to people about writing code. But you’re not in sales, or in marketing, or in human resources, or in product development, or… you get the idea. It can be hard sometimes to imagine a world outside of our own bubble - but by the end of this article, I promise that you’ll want nothing more than to go and hug all the other teams in your organisation. If you have their consent, of course.
The Benefits of Vision
In my early career, I often got frustrated when people would tell me to consider the ‘Bigger Picture’. I was often knee-deep in code that I was only halfway through learning, and had no idea where I’d find the time to wander the halls and check in with what the rest of the organisation was going.
Until one day, I saw someone using something I’d written. And they were using it wrong. That day I started an important journey toward understanding the value of cross-team collaboration.
As it happens, they weren’t using the tool I’d built wrong but I had failed to consider use cases or talk to other people about their wants and needs. My manager encouraged me to set two 30 minute slots a week aside to get to know the organisation better, and I emailed members of other teams and invited them for a 1:1 coffee and chat.
Understanding things from other people’s points of view helped me to write better code, create better tools, and ultimately move the needle and further my career. It also helps you to be more persuasive when it comes to pitching your own perspective and explaining your own wants, needs, and professional goals.
If you work in tech, you’ll be familiar with the acronym GIGO, or Garbage in, Garbage out. You may be surprised to learn that communication between teams works much in the same way. Whether your organisation has a history of open communication between teams or not, working out how to honestly and effectively communicate what you’re working on, what the dependencies are, and why other teams should care is a skill that will place you in high demand. Consider a weekly or monthly team bulletin, or joining in other team’s meetings so that you can give updates on what your team is working on can often be great ways to personify the idea of open and free exchange of information.
It’s also important to remember that you won’t always agree or see eye-to-eye with colleagues and co-workers both inside and outside of your own team. Not only is that okay, it can actually be a superpower if you harness those disagreements in the right way.
If you’re struggling to make connections with people in other teams, a fantastic tool to keep in your belt is workplace contracting. Informal coffee chats aren’t for everyone. When you want to agree on a path forward, you can sit down and draw up a very simple contract with a colleague that focuses on three main things: what you can offer, what you need, and what will be a blocker. Work in a collaborative document, and save it somewhere you can both access it. Refer to it when you need to and revisit it once a year. It’s a sure fire way to ensure you and a colleague in another team are on the same page!
It’s also a fantastic asset when you want to make meetings work for you in a more effective way. There are loads of other great tips on making meetings better in Naomi Pentrel’s talk 'Managing Your Meetings Effectively'.
Making the Dream Work
It may seem like doing something for another team is a waste of your own team’s time and resources. We’re all up against deadlines and budgets, why spend the time? Not only is an interdisciplinary approach to teamwork something that benefits everybody, it also helps to build rapport across the business. That’s a huge personal win - and is fantastic for your career development!
Being transparent about your goals - and encouraging other teams to do the same - has a huge organisational benefit. If you know, for example, that the marketing team are targeting a particular sector or demographic, you can help tailor your work to theirs and vice versa. Synergy - it’s a word people make fun of, but it's beautiful when done right.
Following on from my article on tracking your personal and professional growth, keeping track of cross-organisational relationships and conversations is hugely beneficial too! Keep an org chart handy and make notes about the frequency of meetings you have with different teams and who you meet within them. Being able to pull together project teams from across organisations, or suggest people to go to for advice, often proves invaluable in advanced problem solving or use case testing.
So - empathise, communicate, share, and track - and before you know it, you’ll not only be better at your own job, but you’ll have an indelible impact on the team and organisation around you!