We spoke to CTOs about some of the biggest pain points in their days, and the same issues kept cropping up. It seems the majority of CTOs think improving cross-functional communication will boost their team’s productivity and improve their day to day work.
“Most issues come down to communication problems. That's probably the biggest pain point in my day to day, making sure designers, product managers and engineers are communicating effectively. Using Soapbox has helped us be more clear and concise in our conversations and to hold ourselves and others accountable for the next steps.”
- Graham McCarthy, CTO of Soapbox
But, communication is something a lot of companies struggle with and find hard to keep on top of. So, how best should you go about improving communication in your tech company?
1. Hire the right people
It all starts with who you hire. A product department that works well together is one that is full of team players who share the same vision of quality. According to Dominic Holt:
“The best thing to do is to hire that senior technical leader who knows how to speak to both the engineering team but also the design, product, and senior leadership teams. If you can't find that person, hiring a Fractional or Interim CTO is also a great option. In lieu of that, designating someone on the engineering team to be the "cross-team" liaison can have some positive effects.”
- Dominic Holt, CTO of Valerian Tech
2. Make sure everyone is on the same page
An extreme example of this is the Freaky Friday management technique, adopted by Ben Horowitz, the venture capitalist behind Zynga, Twiter and Stack Overflow. After watching the body-swap film, Ben decided to switch two of his executives. The Head of Customer Support became the Head of Sales and vice versa. According to Ben, the result was ‘miraculous’.
What happened was that there was an increased sense of empathy between teams. They understood each other’s roles better and had a shared perceptive of how to reach an end goal.
This may seem quite drastic. But a much simpler version would be to introduce cross-functional pairing sessions and cross-functional meetings that enable teams to interact and speak with one and other on the key issues they may be facing. As Kenny Trinh says:
“Make sure everyone is on the same page. Communicate and write down what was discussed, make sure everyone knows the goal and what specific task they are involved in the process, and help them get connected on a personal level to establish trust in each other.”
- Kenny Trinh, CEO of Netbooknews
“Building a healthy relationship between Designers and Product Managers and Engineers is important to creating successful products. It’s also essential to creating a team of great people who want to work and collaborate with each other. The thing to remember is to share information because everyone is working towards a common goal.”
- Norhanie Pangulima, Outreach Consultant at Centriq
3. Create an infrastructure that promotes communication
In order to promote communication in your company, you need to create an infrastructure and implement the right tools that will enable it to happen.
“Create efficient communication processes. As with most things in the business having a defined process – that is owned by someone – is the best way to ensure consistent communication.”
- Kenny Trinh, CEO of Netbooknews
Take ownership of communication in your department, and implement relevant tools that will aid improvement of the discussions between designers, product managers and engineers. As Anupama Singh says:
“The best way to improve communication between teams (and even within the teams) is to use a good business messenger. We ensure this and make sure that our teams work together by using Slack. It allows one-on-one communication between individual team members, and we create dedicated channels for projects where we can add all the relevant people from various teams. Communication on the channel not only helps with good coordination but also helps us organize our projects. We create different channels for different projects, so all the feedback and communication has dedicated space, which can be reviewed and accessed by all those that join it.”
- Anupama Singh, CTO, BrandLoom
Slack is just one example of a tool that can make the process of communication across teams easier and more efficient. Companies can also share projects on Asana, ToDoIst, Jira and many more, which boost opportunities for coworking and cross-collaboration.
4. Create a culture that promotes communication
Even with all the correct infrastructure in place, if your department culture doesn’t promote communication, you are going to struggle to increase collaboration. Why not host daily standups and involve all the different teams in your department? Encourage your teams to book in regular time where they speak to one and other, and ensure this is not just a passing phase.
“Companies must create an ecosystem that encourages and nourishes tangible growth for tech leaders and offers a measurable framework for execution. That ecosystem must include healthy communication among all parties, be they coders, product managers, scrum masters, the CTO or the CEO, and of course, the customer! I recommend having weekly discussions with teams, where no one can get in trouble for what they say – maybe they missed a deadline, or maybe they are unable to solve a coding error. If they can speak about these things with team members in an open and non-threatening environment, then perhaps the team, scrum master or product manager can offer a solution that achieves the final goal – getting the product to market!”
- Emad Georgy, CTO of Georgy Technology Leadership
Find out more about building a culture of quality here.
5. Make sure your team feels appreciated
This point goes hand in hand with point 4. If your team feels underappreciated, or that they aren’t being listened to, they will feel less likely to speak out on issues they care about, or share their opinions on projects. As said by Hripsime and Colina Demirdjian:
“As founders, we’ve learned to always listen, appreciate, develop and encourage our team members to share their contributions to the work we are all a part of. This allows us to create an open relationship with our team and to lead with an appreciation of our team’s unique skill sets. We recognize that we don’t have all the answers all the time and can benefit from listening and learning from our team members. At the root of it all is human connection so the goal should always be to make every member feel appreciated for their contributions and able to use their voice, which will, in turn, foster great team spirit in the long run.”
- Hripsime and Colina Demirdjian, Founder of MojiEdit
These 5 simple steps are a fantastic way for CTOs to take the first steps to improve communication across teams.
- Hire the right people
- Make sure everyone is on the same page
- Create an infrastructure that promotes communication
- Create a culture that promotion communication
- Make sure your team feel appreciated