What made this unlikeliest of teams effective?

Three Things Effective Enterprise Product Teams Get

Over the past two years of trying to drive a culture of design and innovation from my little pocket of the large financial enterprise of which I am a part, I’ve had some time to reflect on a question that’s been stuck with me for a while: what do effective product teams in large enterprises have in common?

I was reminded of an exercise I took part in during a corporate communications class. The exercise was meant to reveal the “gets” of personality traits of individuals in the workplace and their effects on that individual’s assertiveness. Inspired by those traits, I noticed that there was a lot of applicability with respect to the effectiveness of teams. And so, after some thought about it, I’ve settled on the following list of things that effective teams get. The order is important:

  1. They know how to get along
  2. They know how to get things done
  3. They know how to get things right

The order here, as I said, is very important. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Get Along

I contend that the most important indicator of success for practically any team — not just design — at an enterprise is its efficacy in building and maintaining strong relationships with its peers and stakeholders. Effective and long-lasting teams are those that first and foremost build trustworthy and strong relationships with the people who fall into their sphere of attention/influence. These people tend to be co-workers, senior managers, cross-functional peers, customers, and realistically even policymakers; there’s a reason why Larry Page and other senior officials at Google have reportedly visited the White House an average of once a week since Obama took office!

2. Get It Done

Once relationships are forged and maintained, effective teams are set up more assuredly to get tasks and objectives done on time and with appropriate frequency. Everyone’s on the team’s side, or at the very least, they do not hinder the team from getting things done. This builds a sense of forward momentum within the team and gives others the impression that the team is high-functioning and committed.

I don’t believe it’s necessary to strictly use an Agile or Scrum based methodology of work to achieve this type of momentum (sometimes called velocity), though these methodologies could help. What’s most important is that people collectively understand what needs to be done, by when, and by whom, all the while communicating clearly and regularly the progress of work.

Ultimately, putting things out the door is almost always better than never at all!

3. Get It Right

Lets pull the reigns back a bit here. Sure, you’ve achieved a fire-hose level of product delivery now, but is that a good thing? How useful is it to anyone that you’re littering their screens and senses (not to mention the only world we’ve got) with more shit people don’t want?

Effective teams instinctively know this and deliberately use their highly efficient and proficient rate of delivery as a means to rapidly increase their learning. With every release out the door, they are waiting anxiously for signals from the market to know whether their release was a hit or a miss. And they feverishly and deliberately collect these signals to inform them on how to relentlessly iterate and improve upon their offerings. Sometimes this may lead to altogether removing the product from the market and other times it will lead to small/major tweaks in the product or service. Every time, however, these follow-up decisions are being made objectively and confidently based on real feedback.

As this great article on HBR says, it’s more valuable to make your decisions right rather than making the right decisions.

There is a fourth “Get” that I didn’t explicitly mention here: “Get Recognized”.

At the time of writing, I haven’t formed a strong belief that the best and most effective teams actively seek recognition. This almost sounds needy. I should mention, however, that I do see the importance of teams evangelizing their work and keeping transparency in their process — which you may or may not see as being rolled under “get recognition”.

What I prefer to believe, though, is that if teams get along well with each other and others, and they get things done, and they strive to get things right, in that order, then eventually they’ll receive the recognition they deserve.

All thoughts are informed by my own continued experiences in the trenches at an enterprise innovation lab in the financial services space. I will aim to share my views and lessons learned at least once every 2 weeks or so. If you found this article helpful, consider signing up for the Innovator’s Odyssey publication on Medium. I’d love to hear your views, too!

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