In my first project as a UX manager in the year 2017, I told myself that my first important goal was to set up the cross-functional collaboration in the organization. Supporting them in the role of content strategist, I thought it to be the obvious first call since it was a B2B SaaS, and the marketers were doing their campaigns without a reference to the design style guide. It was their normal—it was how they had always worked and it was working for the organization.
In the next three years, I invested in learning the best practices in cross-functional collaboration—how to frame the message, building conversations, establishing documented goals, and building alignment tracks. Here are a few lessons that I learnt early and then how I reworked on my learnings for new ways.
When I was early into it
- I focused more on communicating the why—why do we need to align, how it helps the organization, how it helps the teams, how it saves everyone’s time and energy, and how it strengthens our brand positioning. I did not invest in *why they might be reluctant to align*.
- I would not want to give them any benefit of doubt as I felt as if the *marketing voice* was a product function. I welcomed them to question my proposals. They had no arguments to support their methods but I was not always trying to understand their constraints either.
- I spoke in the language of our own success criteria, their success criteria, and how it helps in the product vision. For example, the KPIs and dashboards and the performance levers were linked to the design sense or the message which was part of the design. It was not always helping the relationships to be honest—I did not try to go deep or beyond of why these gaps continued to exist.
- I offered them trainings and workshops, and I offered myself to take trainings from them to bridge this understanding gap. We did these sessions but more as commitment and less to address the underlying assumptions.
- A little later, I started noticing their learning models, and how they draw their problems and solutions on a whiteboard. Not all the viewpoints or opinions were welcome and which was a fair point. However, the follow up was missing.
Later I realized that
It was less about the individuals and more about the interactions. For example, how they see it when the product interface for onboarding meets the marketing promise for the customer goal. Do the product metrics graph excite them?
It could be for the timing, the message itself, and for the clarity or assurance in the message.
Is the team trying to be on the top being the product and design and content leaders, or we are trying to build what the marketing had set up as expectations in the customers’ minds? Who celebrates the wins and in what sense?
Documenting these interactions on the intersections of the functions was the most important early step.
What are the symptoms that define their pause or the panic modes, or their escalations? For example, how they sense an urgency or the need to talk to the product team.
If they overlook this need, what makes them do so? Is it about the confidence, or some incentives?
Stakeholder mapping needs to be watched for continuous discovery and continuous validation. Leaders’ motivation changes sometimes, and as the teams grow or change, leaders may not get the time to realign with their core frameworks with the product vision, for the right incentives.
It runs deeper into identifying the symptoms as I said.
The awareness metrics—for symptoms, interactions, incentives
One of the reasons of why collaboration has been a subjective catalyst in the product operations is that there are no direct or clear metrics involved. The functional metrics or the operational or behavioral metrics generally focus on the product’s functional or business value to the organization, or sometimes on the employee experience.
If there are awareness metrics that help the teams work on symptoms and interactions and incentives; we can be a lot closer to see collaboration as the default culture in the organizations.
Team structure certainly plays an important role because the way we are designed to or are encouraged to work others plays a role in communication. For example Spotify’s Tribe Model might facilitate cross-functional collaboration in a different way when compared to other organizations who design their teams on a different model. Many product teams start redesigning their teams for the developer-designer ratio, or for the hierarchy or structure, but it rarely helps them in their core goal—information flow in context of general work sentiment in the organization.
Cross-functional collaboration is not about visibility or ownership or hierarchy and organization structure. It is also not about the what-why-how information seeking or information sharing model. It is simply a given that welcomes curiosity with an open mind—the curiosity to know how others work and how it helps the organization, knowing that we are not identified only by our work but also by how we work.
Symptoms. Interactions. Incentives.
This topic is part of my advanced course in product content strategy, content design, and UX Writing. See the course details for how we can find and add more meaning to our work.