Bringing A Team Along
As you master the skills that make you an exceptional engineer, designer or sales person, and start deploying them to lead teams toward amazing outcomes, you’ll find that there’s a greater onus on soft-skills to succeed — the kind that cannot be taught or learnt in school, the kind that charismatic leaders we all admire appear to born with. One of these is bringing a team along with your vision, idea or perspective. This is particularly true as organizations across the world are undergoing a cultural shift and there’s an increased impetus on empowering employees to ask questions, share opinions and challenge decisions. While these are healthy changes, all necessary to systemically build healthier, bottoms-up innovation, it does require leaders to be adept at bringing their teams along the way. So, what’s effective?
Involve the team: To lead a team toward a vision, leaders need to invest the time creating one — and creating one with their teams. Compare and contrast two scenarios. First, where a leader has developed a pitch-perfect deck that makes for an inspiring vision and a compelling business case— except that they did it by themselves in a silo. Second, where a leader has involved their team in the process. This includes their direct-reports, cross-functional partners and stakeholders. They sought out ideas, asked questions, showed vulnerability, and created frameworks to drive creativity within constraints. Which one do you think would be more set up for success? No points for getting the right answer. A few years back, a leader I deeply respect had started in a new role and was putting together a 2 year strategy for our team. Acknowledging that they didn’t know the user, data or team well enough, they gathered a relevant cross-section of the organization and aligned us on the problem we needed to solve for the business. After a series of brainstorms, asynchronous assignments and back and forth, we had a straw-man proposal for the strategy. When we finally set it forth to the leadership team, the excitement was palpable. It felt like a double win to have a strategy that was tied to tangible problems and a team excited to get behind it.
Write it down: Writing channels expression, taking an idea out of someone’s head and making it explainable, understandable and repeatable by others. It gets people on the same page and when there’s disconnects, brings them to the surface for resolution versus letting them simmer under the surface. It allows us to create stories that can be told and retold without being lost in translation. It forces a dialog around the unknowns and intentional trading off. When a burst of ideas meets the structure of a vision document, it creates intentional prioritization, focus and rigor: Define the problem you are solving, the user you are solving it for, why solving it is big enough to matter, how you will measure success and how the product will work. Too often, I’ve seen teams go from an idea in their head to building it without taking pause to ask these questions. Often the ideas fail, not for want of flawless execution, but for lack of a customer need, willingness to pay, or awareness of the product, all of which could have been averted through thoughtful upfront debate and articulation .
Tell Your Story: Never underestimate the power of authentic story-telling. Increasingly, people across the world are choosing to work on problems they feel a personal connection with and bringing these identities to work. So if you want the problem and solution to resonate with your team, to your leaders and your stakeholders, tell them story that brought you here, that stuck with you in user research or that you heard from a stranger when they saw the logo on your backpack. It reinforces the reason your teams are choosing to work here and the vision you are working together on. Among my first assignments as a Product Manager at Amazon was defining the search experience for book shoppers and I was reminded of my experience just a few weeks prior. As an avid reader of the Robert Galbraith series, it frustrated me that, while packing books for my train trip through Europe, Amazon needed me to know the name and sequence of the newest title in the series, despite me having read/purchased each previous title on my Kindle. Admittedly, it took only 2 mins of research on Google to find the right title, but that additional step created friction for the Amazon experience that I had high expectations of. When I shared my story during the roadmap planning and backed it with research and impact data, I was able to make a much stronger case for prioritization than I would otherwise have been able to — because the painpoint I was describing was visual, authentic and relatable. We often underestimate the importance of authentic story-telling but the broader point here is that if you aren’t working on a problem you personally care about, do you really care solving it at all?
A team that dreams together wins together. Happy building!