4 Qualities of an Optimized Product Team
As product teams scale, diversity in personalities, individual ethos, and norms are inevitable. If managed correctly, it could be a great advantage in building high-performing teams. That is, although, easier said than done. Inconsistency in expectations, experiences, and communication often lurk beneath the surface for a long time before it is even identified, let alone fixed. Thus, effective product leadership focuses on four key elements to prevent inconsistencies from creeping in, while leveraging team members’ strengths.
The culture within a product team is what defines its growth and success trajectory. At Circles.Life, we believe that an optimized product team is one that sees healthy conflicts regularly. Open discussions without hidden agendas encourage the team to develop mutual respect for differing views and thinking processes while promoting diversity and inclusion.
Product leadership should drive decision-making and healthy debates objectively i.e., based on facts and not based on emotions. At Circles.Life, we promote a growth mindset and mentor the team on similar lines. Motivators for a high-performing team are intrinsic and not dependent on external factors. We often encourage the team to ask questions like “Why do I do what I do?”, “What gives me purpose?”, “What am I passionate about?” to aid their professional and personal development.
Developing a sense of ownership within the team is another trait that influential product leaders should focus on. Among other benefits, taking pride in work and seeing the impact and contribution to business growth fuels self-esteem and confidence. One of the initiatives we took for nurturing a sense of ownership is Circles.Life Stock Options Program (also known internally as CSOP). CSOP is a company-run program in which full-time employees are granted company stock within a year upon joining. Employees can continue to contribute to the plan through payroll deductions and we have some additional CSOP for high-performing employees.
One of the majorly impacted areas in the post-pandemic world is communication within teams. Transparency, simplicity, clarity in communication, and ‘ways of working’ have become more essential than before in a remote working environment. We have teams working across multiple countries and continents. New team members are onboarded remotely because of the pandemic and can only connect with the rest of the team virtually. The difference in time zones, cultural context, and lack of watercooler conversations are some of the examples that make maintaining high transparency difficult. Nevertheless, it is crucial for an optimized product team to continually align and be on the same page to successfully work towards a common goal.
As explained by our Head of Products, Vipin Sharma in his article about Growth, constant communication is key to manage fast-paced growth.
At Circles, we have tried to achieve transparency using a three-pronged strategy:
- The team decides the destination: Be it our 5-year vision or 1-year goals, or quarterly roadmap, they all are developed and arrived at jointly by the team. It is not a goal imposed upon an individual, but one mutually arrived and agreed upon by each stakeholder. We are not just aware of what we are doing but also know and agree with its why, which helps drive ownership.
- Know where everyone is going and where everyone is: Cross-functional collaboration is more straightforward with collaboration tools like Jira, Confluence, and Google Suite. With every document available in the cloud, we can be open and transparent about which metrics each function is tracking and the roadmap to get there. By making information easily accessible to all and organizing regular cadences, we can monitor, follow and share progress on key metrics across the board. The responsibility is thus shared and owned by the team(s).
- AMA sessions: Right from founders to product team leaders, everyone conducts regular cadence to share updates on progress on key metrics, roadmaps, what went right, and what went wrong. These sessions also have mechanisms built in to enable team members to ask questions openly and anonymously.
Speaking about ownership, an optimized product team often has distributed ownership, in which failures and successes are collaborative and cumulative throughout the group. No single failure belongs to someone to bear, nor does a project’s success belong to an individual. Every individual in our product team is empowered to make crucial decisions, and more importantly, enabled to see to their success. Specifically, it is also vital to celebrate failures on top of success by learning from mistakes over blaming one another.
Effective leaders start by leading their team from front, only to end up being just the wind beneath their wings. Leaders at Circles have a vision for the team’s long-term development and nurture them with additional skills to help them achieve their goals. It’s about marrying individual needs and interests to the organization’s purpose.
Our mission is to give power back to customers and lead innovation in digital services. We encourage all Circles.Lifers to take a step forward in making this happen.
With the recent uncertainties in the world which affect each and every one of us, now more than ever, it’s crucial for our leaders to demonstrate compassion. We monitor our team’s pulse check monthly, create a plan to make it better, and are ready to support our team members in these difficult times. While not all of us are practicing mindfulness, we try our best to initiate daily interactions, monthly team lunches, and Friday after-hours meet-ups.
4. Ecosystem not Silos
An optimized product team thinks for the entire ecosystem and company as a whole, as every decision impacts the organization’s overall success. At Circles.Life, we emphasize the importance of working together under a single ecosystem so that everything gets tied back in a synchronized manner. The work that one PM or Product track does may impact multiple other stakeholders, and it is crucial that they know what to expect and are on board.
Our eSIM journey provides a good lesson we can share with you, specifically about this point. Before any product or promo launches, it’s our best practice for our Product Manager to brief our Customer Happiness (CH) team and prepare some FAQ articles. The Knowledge Base was prepared meticulously to equip our Customer Happiness team with all the required information to help our customers. But since it is a new technology, we didn’t anticipate some of the questions coming from our customers. Our Product and CH teams worked together during the early days of launch to update our knowledge base and FAQs in real-time. This type of close coordination and collaboration is the hallmark of our product team.
As a practice, we conduct a “3 in a box” cadence consisting of business, product, and engineering teams to ensure information symmetry and collaboration among all stakeholders.
To ensure a high-performing and optimized team, our approach has been to be extremely open with the team and empower them with all the information and support they need. The idea is to create a safe environment where PMs can learn from each other’s failures and success and create high-impact products. Another crucial aspect has been the collaboration between multiple teams. No one knows everything, but everyone knows something.
Well, these have been some of our guiding principles at Circles. What’s yours? Do let me know and help us improve :)
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