How I think about cross-functional collaboration at work
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
I wrote this post a couple years ago when I was supporting a large cross-functional team at Lyft. Thought it might be helpful to people working with similarly structured teams here!
Why I think cross-functional collaboration is so important
When most people think of what PMs do, they think of leading a team of engineers, designers, and data scientists to ship a technical product. While that’s of course a big part of what PMs do, I want to also draw attention to how important cross-functional relationships are in the success of your product.
Incorporating the diverse perspectives of cross-functional teams is necessary when building the best possible solution for our users. Every team at Lyft has a unique perspective on our users as a result of their unique touch points with them, and also has wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives to draw from when thinking about about all the different factors that go into designing the best possible experience for our Drivers and Passengers.
We’re all one team. Without customer support, our users would get lost and leave when anything went wrong. Without our operations teams, our users wouldn’t have high-touch experiences to guide them towards making the most of our service. Without Lyft’s legal and policy teams being the experts in how to ensure we’re always compliant with regulations across where we operate, we wouldn’t be able to do our part in being good citizens in the cities in which we operate. The list goes on, and I’ve seen time over time how these teams are the most valuable make or break point for our users’ experience.
My philosophy around good collaboration boils down to three things:
Optimize for oversharing to avoid things you ship negatively impacting partner teams
Be concise — optimize for the medium, length, and amount of context your audience will be most receptive to
Have regular meetings with stakeholders to build relationships and build consensus around what our shared goal is moving forward
Write down everything: notes from 1:1s and team meetings, actionables, etc.
Have one concise and centralized doc for every initiative
Give your stakeholders ample time to view, suggest updates, and prepare before you ship
Misalignment and miscommunication will happen
Get regular feedback from your stakeholders to understand how you can better facilitate
Record it, internalize it, act on it, and get continuous feedback to make sure it’s working
Here are some best practices that help me keep our cross-functional team on track:
Make sure we’re all aligned under the same goal, same way of quantifying it, and same methods for keeping track of progress towards it
Recurring 1:1s with leaders of the teams I collaborate with most to make sure we’re on the same page on strategy
Recurring syncs with stakeholder teams to make sure everyone on the team is aligned on how we’ll achieve our goals and how we’re prioritizing our projects
Have a well-maintained doc for every person you do 1:1s with, every cross-team meeting you lead, and every initiative your team is a part of. Use this to maintain a record of what was talked about and what action items remain to take care of
Here’s how I evaluate if everyone is already collaborating well when joining a new team
It all comes down to (1) if the team members are happy with how collaboration is going, and (2) if the team is producing the results that are necessary to move forward in the right direction.
When I join a new team, I meet with everyone on it to get their take on the above. They’re my customers and any process we add to improve collaboration is a product meant for them. And it doesn’t end there — I’m always re-evaluating with folks how we can continually improve collaboration!
Tips for resolving conflict among a large group of stakeholders
Misalignment and miscommunication will happen. It’s inevitable. When a lot of people are on the same team and care a lot about achieving something good for our users, conflict can and will arise on how to best achieve that.
Ultimately, conflict among stakeholders usually stems from a lack of clear understanding of goals and a lack of alignment on a framework for decision-making. Clear those up, and things should run much more smoothly!
I’ve found the following checklist to be helpful when resolving conflicts in a team:
Align on goals and success metrics: What problem are we trying to solve? Which users are we serving and what do they need? How do we know we’re succeeding as a team? What metric(s) are we optimizing for?
Shared framework for decision-making: Are we all using the same framework to decide what the right thing to do is? If not, let’s first align on a framework, and then apply it to the situation at hand.
Shared context: Does everyone in the conversation have all of the context that they should have to make the right decision? Everyone should have access to all the information that everyone else in the conversation has.
Writing all of this down in a central place is crucial to make sure everyone aligns on the same path forward as well.
Learning collaboration skills
First of all, learning how to better collaborate is a never-ending journey! There’s always more to learn and grow in being a better team collaborator, as for any other PM skill :)
Getting to where I am today came from joining teams, making an effort to create a state of good collaboration, getting feedback from teammates on how it’s going, and getting mentorship from other PMs in my organization on how to uplevel my cross-functional collaboration skills. And most importantly, making mistakes and learning from them!