Orville Wright didn’t take flight without the help of Wilbur. Gustave Eiffel didn’t make his tower without a team of 200 construction workers. And The Beatles most certainly aren’t “The Beatle” for a good reason: Almost all of humanity’s greatest accomplishments are the result of collaboration.
When we see a fantastic end result, it becomes apparent that finely-tuned teamwork was present. But what does good team collaboration actually look like while it’s happening?
To understand what good collaboration looks like in practice, we asked several leaders and teammates at Front to share their views on how it appears in their roles every day.
What is team collaboration?
To begin to define team collaboration, let’s first define it. Very simply put, team collaboration is when people work together to achieve a common goal or end result. Usually, a team collaboration means there is a group working together, but it could be as small as two people.
For some examples of excellent team collaboration, let’s recognize how vague this phrase is. It can be anything. And that’s wonderful. It includes so many different projects. It could be as simple as two people baking a cake, or as complex as a 20,000-person company building a search engine that everyone around the world uses...It can be 4 people hammering and nailing wood to make a house. It can be people sitting in a huddle room or on video conferencing, thinking, brainstorming, and scribbling down notes for a product launch. It can be two dog walkers holding 14 leashes while pups dart in every direction...you get the point.
But let’s dwell on the "why" portion of team collaboration—because that’s important. You’re working together to make something happen. Here at Front, we think that’s super special, and we believe that team collaboration is the reason we as humans are able to accomplish so much. The power of team collaboration enables us to do infinitely more than a single person working solo. Isn’t that beautiful?
What does truly good team collaboration look like?
Aligning on desired results
According to Head of Strategic Sales Maggie Peressini, good collaboration is “when everyone is focused and working on the same outcome.” Whether you’re “looped in” or “working in lockstep” or “aligned towards end goals”, good collaboration requires that everyone know who’s responsible for what, when it’s being done, and what the end product should look like.
Designating clear ownership
VP of Global Sales Andrew Berger noted that on top of alignment, good collaboration requires ownership and accountability. "All parties are exactly on the same page, people know who owns what, and when it’s all due,” he said.
Challenging others and adapting
When it comes to developing something totally new, good collaboration means having honesty and willingness to change to make things better. Good collaboration is, “when someone takes your ideas, tells you you’re crazy or impossible, and then works with you to make them better,” said Engineering Manager Sean Xie.
Fellow Engineering Manager Dennis Stevense added that to him, being able to brainstorm together is a critical element of good collaboration. It’s about “jamming on ideas to come up with a creative solution to a challenging problem together.”
Knowing the impact you’re working towards
Whether you’re helping a customer or writing a marketing video, it’s much easier to work effectively when you understand the reason you’re doing something. Product Marketing Lead Cory Fetter pointed out that it’s imperative that teams have, “an understanding of the ‘why’ behind the work” and use that final impact to fuel you forward.
Strengthening cross-departmental communication
Clear communication among the internal team is an obvious prerequisite for good collaboration, but Head of Support Kenji Hayward added that strengthening your cross-departmental communication is also critical. “The Engineering and Support collaboration is one of the biggest secrets to our success at Front. Engineers are our "Tier 3 Support" team. This means they work directly with customers daily, and there is accountability for things shipped and bugs fixed. Our Support team collaborates with Engineering via internal comments and our JIRA integration, so we’re always on the same page. It is a significant reason we have such fast response and resolution times.”
Maintaining a sustainable pace
Alone it’s easy to burn out. Good collaboration prevents that, allowing you to move at a pace that feels manageable and can survive the long haul. Software engineer Flavien David said, “Alone you will probably go faster, but surely you won’t last long. As a team that collaborates, you will always be more resilient and go further.”
Mutual listening and risk-taking
Head of EMEA Sales Martin Duhamel compared good collaboration to dance partners moving in sync. They “rely on a strong sense of mutual listening. Everyone does not hesitate to try a few bold moves, while first bringing their partner on board and caring about one ultimate goal: the best outcome.”
He added that tactically, good collaboration means having the “ability to leverage asynchronous and synchronous working tools (email, project management tools, paper DB, meetings) to efficiently gather inputs, challenge your own thoughts with someone else’s, and build a common path.”
Ensuring opinions and skillsets are valued
Good collaboration requires inclusivity. Our Research Design Lead Heather Young explained, “Everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone feels their opinion is valued.” She also pointed out that it’s essential for everyone to understand their role and the power of their own skillsets amongst the group. "The most important thing is that everyone is aligned on what value they bring to the table, what the mechanism for collaboration is, and what the intended outcomes are.”
Building a regular communication cadence
Our Sales Development Manager Frances Zhang said for her team, having an ongoing communication cadence is what drives good collaboration. She shared 5 tactics to fuel consistent communication amongst the team:
Daily stand ups to highlight blockers, ingest more energy, have fun, share quick info, adjust to any changes
Weekly “thinktanks" to share learnings and brainstorm
Bi-weekly Frontline sessions that enable global BDRs on a hot topic
Weekly emails sent to sales/marketing/ops leadership to share top wins/top learnings and progress against OKR’s
“Peer thinktanks”: A smaller scale weekly sync for specific pods of BDRs to highlight anything top of mind or wins/losses of the week
Empowering high quality work, faster
Good collaboration should make work easier for individuals, instead of adding to your teams’ plates or causing overlap or overhead on tasks. According to our Head of Engineering Shane Lowry, “Good team collaboration looks like when my teammates and I are loosely coupled but tightly aligned. We can move quickly and with a lot of latitude, but not step on each others toes, and feel like we can read each others’ minds. We can do more than the sum of our parts.”
Support Programs Manager Helena Li added that along with moving faster and yielding higher quality, good collaboration means enabling your team to feel a sense of confidence in your responses to customers and in the end product you produce. “On our team, we collaborate a lot; our success as a Support team depends on it. We feel confident that we have given the customer the best possible solution through our shared knowledge, as we’re able to collaborate easily with the appropriate subject matter experts.”
What does bad team collaboration look like?
All these examples of good collaboration are nice…but we also wondered, what does bad collaboration look like? What should be a red flag?
Our Head of Support Kenji weighed in that “invisible walls” between teams can be an indicator of weak collaboration at play:
“It’s not uncommon to have an invisible barrier between two teams, such as support and engineering. You wage an internal battle on behalf of the customer separated by tools (aka walls) such as the chosen bug ticketing system and your help desk, only to leave the customer hanging waiting for an update. Engineers eventually lose empathy and become out of touch with customer needs and the impact of things they’ve shipped. Support teams grow frustrated that there isn’t progress being made fast enough.”
Can good team collaboration be captured in an image?
With a quick glance at the websites of most collaboration software, good collaboration might look like a stock photo of people pointing at an empty whiteboard. Or, it might look like a bunch of colorful cartoon people stacking up blocks for no apparent reason.
While we love stock photos and colorful illustrations, we know that truly good collaboration can’t be represented fully in 2D formats. Rather, it’s something that can’t necessarily be seen at all. You can feel it, and you can practice it, and the moment when you reach your end product is when the power of good team collaboration really shines through.
Written by Emily Hackeling
Originally Published: 25 September 2020