If you’ve worked—well—anywhere before, you may have noticed that people communicate more frequently and easily amongst their team members than between teams.
It’s a propensity that makes sense. The people you work closely with also tend to be the people you feel most comfortable around and, thus, are the people you talk to the most. Beware, though. This feedback loop can turn into something dangerous: a silo.
A communication silo occurs when teams talk exclusively amongst themselves at the expense of big picture company goals. It can result in uncoordinated product shipments, misinformed marketing decisions, and poor customer support.
In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to effective and quality customer service is a lack of dialogue between the support team and everyone else.
One great example? As a regular user of a new-ish audio recording app, I once received a complicated step-by-step set of instructions for working around a product bug, only to realize I couldn’t follow them because the attached screenshots were all totally outdated. When I questioned the support agent, he wrote back apologetically, saying he hadn’t realized the product had changed. Oops!
Teams that don’t consistently communicate between themselves are in danger of repeating, rather than reinforcing, each other’s hard work. The result is eroded goodwill, impeded progress, and, ultimately, frustrated customers.
How to Avoid This Debacle
It’s easy to say, but much harder to do: create and implement good systems for cross-team communication.
From my experience, the teams that succeed work hard to ensure the following pieces are in place:
Make user satisfaction a company-wide priority
Projects like product and marketing become consuming, full-resource tasks with seemingly disparate objectives. But at the end of the day, everyone is on the same team: your goals are to attract new customers and keep the loyal ones happy.
Acknowledging this as a top level priority will help re-contextualize each team’s perspective on their work and it will open the doorway for them to both seek and hear feedback from the support team. Considering how product changes will affect the user experience and communicating those changes back to support should be baked into the process of product development.
Establish point people
It’s essential to designate specific people as communication bridges between teams. This makes for efficiency (you can send one email to communicate something to an entire team), habit (it’s always the same person), and relationship-focused leadership (people whose job is to prioritize empathetic and consistent communication)—and that adds up to healthy and productive cross-team dialogue. Establishing relationship-focused leadership also emphasizes the importance of communication as a top-level priority. You’re saying that it matters that the people in your company are speaking to each other.
A few years ago, I spent time with a company that, as they scaled rapidly, neglected to designate pathways for clear dialogue between teams. As a result, the communications team spent a full month systematically rewriting the user onboarding process—an achievement they announced to the company on the exact same day that the product team eliminated user accounts, en total. It was a climactic moment of disaster that illuminated the fundamental importance of communication between teams. Ideally, the communications and product teams should have been coordinating their efforts toward the same overall goal instead of accidentally working against each other.
Have regular meetings, but keep them brief
Meetings can be exhausting and strain the attention span of even your most dedicated employees, but they’re also critical. By keeping them short, focused, and regular, you ensure that conversations stay productive and energetic.
A 10-minute, one-on-one weekly check-in is the perfect amount of time to take stock of existing projects, address near-future goals, and jot down a mutual “to do” list. It’s an easy (often fun!) way to keep everybody on the same page. It also creates a safe space for constructive feedback to come from outside any given team, which can provide some key insights.
If user satisfaction, fueled by cross-team communication, is a company-wide goal, it’s essential to go the extra mile to communicate back to teammates how their individual work is contributing to the effort.
That means making sure the designer who screenshots product changes for the FAQs page gets kudos in the next company meeting. Creating and measuring success metrics in direct relation to customer service interactions will help your employees realign their approaches on everything from graphic design to Twitter posts.
Physical workspace counts, too
Even if you have limited control over your office layout, there are small steps you can take to ensure that your company’s physical space aligns with your communication goals. Comfortable, informal, shared workspaces encourage co-mingling between teams. Think couches, big work tables, and no assigned seating. If people know each other comfortably and socially, in addition to sharing project goals and task lists, communicating across teams can become an easy accident—not to mention a pleasure.
Truly great cross-team collaboration requires time to develop and constant attention, but the positive outcomes must be achieved to create and maintain an exceptional user experience.
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