How do you Build a Winning Product Development Team? "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs September 09 2020 True #mtp engage hamburg, diverse teams, Product Team, psychological safety, Success, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 1179 product team at work Product Management 4.716

How do you Build a Winning Product Development Team?


It’s not rocket science that awesome products come from awesome teams, so what’s the key to creating and managing a team that’s designed for maximum impact?

Here, taking advice from a number of product pros, we look at a selection of ways to build product teams and empower them to achieve success.

Choose a Diverse Group of People

In his 2019 #mtpcon London talk – High Performing Teams, Richard Banfield discussed a variety of things that help to drive success in product teams, one of which stands out because of its simplicity – choose a diverse group of people.

Richard said that a team made up of people with lots of different experiences, knowledge, and skills shows everyone that it’s alright to be different.

What’s more, it indicates that those who stand out or are different, are embraced and that their opinions are respected.

Of course, sharing may be more complicated because not everyone has the same frames of reference, but overall the benefits far outweigh any communication challenges.

In fact, studies such as the 2015 McKinsey report – Diversity Matters, have shown that working on a team with people who are different from you can challenge your thinking in such a way that it can actually help to sharpen up its performance.

Create Conditions for Success

For a team to be successful, it must have the right conditions to thrive in. This is the advice of Ezinne Udezue.

In her 2019 #mtpcon London keynote – Helping Teams to be Successful, she explained that to create the right conditions for your team, you must:

  • Take time to learn about the people you work with – the better you understand people, the more you can empathise, trust, and work with them
  • Focus on impact – keep asking if there was a better or quicker way to achieve the same goal
  • Develop empathy – learn what’s it’s like to walk in your customers’ shoes so that you can build the products they really need and want
Take time to learn about the people you work with
Take time to learn about the people you work with (Image: Shutterstock)

Cultivate Psychological Safety

During an early episode of Mindset, Mind the Product’s, Rosemary King and Head of Products at Allplants, Laurel Gray discussed the importance of developing psychological safety to enable success and happiness within a team.

Laurel suggested that product managers can help to cultivate psychological safety by first talking about it openly. Without doing this, people might often say they feel psychologically safe, without really knowing what it is or why it’s important.

She recommended looking into Google’s Project Aristotle – a study conducted by Google to better understand the traits of its highest performing teams. The findings indicated that it wasn’t the number of PhDs, or even the number of hard skills on the team, that drove performance, but rather whether or not the teams demonstrated characteristics of psychological safety.

With a culture of psychological safety firmly in place, people have the courage to disagree, share ideas, and to feel safe to make mistakes without blame or recrimination, all of which can have an incredible impact on the performance of a team.

Hire Well and for the Right Roles

In her 2019 #mtpcon London talk – The Secret Sauce to Hiring Great Product People, Kate Leto talked about getting your team right from the start.

We all know that bad hiring decisions can be costly and Kate explained that, while we often think about product/market fit, we rarely think about person-organisation fit. One way to build a successful team is, therefore, to hire people who we know will fit into that team well.

Another, she told us, is to create the right role for your team, and your organisation, by not writing a job description that’s simply cut and pasted from another.

Write a job description that really details what you need
Write a job description that really details the reality of what you need (Image: Shutterstock)

Instead, she recommended creating a job description covering:

  • Purpose – be clear on why the role exists
  • Accountabilities – what outcomes will it be responsible for?
  • Activities – what are the tasks and responsibilities that sit under this role?
  • Behaviours – the key capabilities of emotional intelligence (EQ)

By building roles in this way, you stand a better chance of hiring someone who is the right fit for the reality of the role.

Transition Work Group to Team

Once you have your team in place, there’s then work to be done to transition that team from good to great. And, as Christina Wodtke (author of Radical Focus) explained during her 2018 #mtpcon San Francisco keynote, a team will really only become a team when it has all of the following:

  • A common purpose: an objective to rally the team around
  • Performance goals: Qualitative objectives and quantitative key results for the team to aim for, and complete the unified vision
  • Complementary skills: a balanced mix of people who know product, technology and business
  • Mutual accountability: everyone on the team holds each other accountable – not just the boss

From here, the foundations can be set for teams to move from a “team”, to a “learning team” and finally, to a “mindful team”.

Learn how to Build a Successful Teams

Of course, the points above really only dip a toe into the many ways you can build a successful product team. You’ll find plenty of advice sitting with the product people in our incredible community so reach out and ask others what they suggest. We’d love to know your thoughts on this subject too. What, in your opinion, sets a product team up for success? Tell us what you know, what you’ve tried, what’s worked and what hasn’t – hit discuss this article below.

You can also deep-dive into the subject at MTP Engage Hamburg on June 25th, where Christina Wodtke will be leading her workshop – Designing Product Teams with Intention: Crafting your Successful Team.

Christina’s past work includes re-design and initial product offerings with LinkedIn, MySpace, Zynga, Yahoo!, and others, as well as founding three startups, an online design magazine called Boxes and Arrows, and co-founding the Information Architecture Institute. She is currently a Lecturer at Stanford in the HCI Group in the Computer Science department.

MTP Engage Hamburg workshop
Join a group of product people for a deep-dive workshop at MTP Engage Hamburg

With all that experience under her belt, she knows how to design and inspire teams to work together and this workshop is an intimate opportunity to learn her proven results-forward methodology.

During the workshop, Christina will take you into the factors that inform strategically crafted product teams, and address the core question: why do some product teams break while others thrive?

You will explore:

  • Cultural tensions facing teams
  • Cadences of winning product teams
  • Setting norms, and why they matter
  • How to use OKRs to help teams define, tackle and realise big goals in a methodical way (leaving nothing to chance!)
  • Organisational learning and teams
  • Feedback for individuals and for teams: how regular check-ins can keep you on track to success