I’m in a multidisciplinary team… now what?

When implementing the Agile software development methodology, there is a tendency to create multidisciplinary teams from the existing workforce. They become mash-ups of developers (full-stack, or separate front-end and back-end developers), user experience designers and QA engineers topped off with a (dedicated) product owner/champion. If you’re lucky someone read about DevOps and you also get a toy-ops included in your team.

As a newly formed team you might be asking yourself this simple question: great, but now what?

Let’s start with three key elements to working in a multidisciplinary team:

  1. Share a common goal
  2. Commit to that goal as a team
  3. Be clear on what you expect from each other

Share a common goal

Although this is important for other teams as well, it becomes vital if you mash-up multiple disciplines. Apart from the company or product goals, each person will have their own view on what’s important based on their focus.

For example, a UX designer might find it hard to accept certain compromises to the design or user interaction based on technical limitations, the operations person might want to spent more time on performance testing and the developers might want to refactor code instead of adding new features.

You all want what’s best for the company and the product

There are a lot of different opinions when working with multiple disciplines. You need to makes sure that as a team you’re on the same page. Spent time discussing what’s important to each the team member and try to find common ground. Remember: you all want what’s best for the company and the product. The challenge is to align those views and agree on what that means for your team.

Commit to that goal as a team

Now that you have a common goal, it’s important that you commit to that goal as a team. As the sprint progresses, each team member has an equal responsibility to make sure you deliver on your commitment.

Ultimately, the lines between disciplines should start to fade. If your interpretation of a multidisciplinary team is limited to the idea that each team member is only responsible for the tasks and stories that are specific to their discipline, you’ll end up having trouble to achieve your sprint goal.

If the team does not come together to resolve the bottleneck, you might as well stop calling it a team

If the responsibility for QA is limited to the QA engineer, there will be a situation in which development stories will get stuck in the QA phase, simply because the QA engineer cannot deal with the amount of work. If the team does not come together to resolve the bottleneck, you might as well stop calling it a team.

Be clear on what you expect from each other

Even though you might be working together for a long time, I’ll bet vital parts of my anatomy that there is still a lot of prejudice or ignorance in regard to each discipline. Developers are lazy, UX designers live in a pixel perfect fantasy world and the QA engineer is this grumpy person that’s always complaining.

If you want your team to succeed you’ll need to get this sorted. Spent time to understand each other and to learn what’s important for their discipline. It also means that you call out team members that are dysfunctional. When working together on a shared goal it’s important that you create a safe environment based on mutual understanding and equality.

If someone is unhappy, spent time as a team to discuss why

There are a lot of fun ways to help your team become a more coherent group. For instance, try putting up post-its on your board with emoticons that resemble the mood of each team member during daily standups. If someone is unhappy, spent time as a team to discuss why (make sure you do this in a safe environment). Collect those moods and discuss them during the retrospective and see how you can improve on your work environment.

Another option is to have each team member give a presentation about their discipline and their views on working together as a team. During those presentations its your goal to try and find the implicit expectations each of the team members have on working together as a group and discuss those within the team.

Conclusion

Working in a team can be difficult. Working in a multidisciplinary team is a whole new ballgame. Not only do you need to spent time on getting to know your team members and figure out how you can be productive as a group, you will also need to spent time on understanding their field and how that interacts with yours.

During team formation there should be enough time and focus on finding the right balance between team members. There are a lot of interesting assignments and team coaches that can help you to achieve this. However, the most important aspect of working in multidisciplinary teams is to have that common goal and work together on achieving it. Make sure to frequently reiterate this common goal and your commitment as a group.

Bonus tip: it also helps going out for drinks from time to time ;)
Getting to know each of your team members as a person will also help you understand much of their professional views and opinions.

N.B. The suggestions in this article are also applicable for those who are part of already existing multidisciplinary teams that still haven’t come together as a group.


This article was previously published on LinkedIn Pulse

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