“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Cross-discipline collaboration can be challenging—filled with problems and overall difficulties. Product leaders are no strangers to collaboration, so it was a highly resonated topic at the #mtpcon Leadership Forum 2023.
In the first session of the day, Georgie Smallwood, Chief Technology and Product Officer at Moonpig, led an engaging session to provide some tips, which was followed by a great panel involving Joe Dreimann, Senior Director of Product Design at Pendo, Phil Hornby, Founder and Director at for product people, Sean O’Neill, Chief Product Officer at GfK, and moderated by Erin Weigel, Senior Design Manager at Deliveroo.
We can’t deliver anything
Cross-discipline collaboration is about delivering effective communication and information exchange across different departments. However, it is full of problems due to other goals, and different thinking. When done right, it can invite diverse perspectives and spur innovative ideas. Additionally, it can reduce work and accelerate growth, enhancing the user experience.
“Product management is the only role that cannot deliver anything alone. Without good cross-functional collaboration, we can’t deliver anything. It’s on us to make sure everyone collaborates.” Georgie said. She added that there’s always going to be friction amongst different teams. The job of a product manager is to get teams on the same board, and work together towards the same goal.
Product leadership stages
Georgie delved into the various stages a product person may face whilst undertaking different leadership roles and explained the level of communication required at each level.
It is imperative at the senior product manager stage to build good work relationships with engineers and designers. At this stage, Georgie stressed the importance of transparency and using data to validate your stories. The biggest challenge is verbal communication. Getting this right is possible with the right investment through learning and mentoring.
When reaching the head of product stage, it is common to be in ‘middle-management hell’. You’re in charge of people, and constantly deal with friction with the CEO. In these situations, Georgie explained to rely on your networks and prioritise effective communication. “Overwhelm them with information and keep things consistent. They will learn to understand your information,” she adds.
The CPO stage can be a lonely voyage, she says. No one understands the role, but many assume they can do it. Here are some of Georgie’s key tips:
- Do not attempt to educate those who do not want to learn
- Build relationships before you need them..and you will need them
- No one is a unicorn. Know your gaps and hire for them.
- Learn business language and use it. Common language is important; people don’t understand tech, and tech doesn’t understand business.
Panel insights on communication
The panel continued the discussion by emphasizing effective communication as a vital skill for product leaders. Some key tips shared during the engaging discussion included:
Communicating with a broad range of teams
When looking to communicate with different teams, Phil explained how we must be conscious of writing better emails. Dealing with engineering teams specifically, “Geek out and engage with them on their topics. Take it as a way of building a relationship,” he added.
Joe and Sean complemented that point and added that you can’t broadcast in the same language to everyone. Provide teams with a safe space for them to communicate simply. Doing this enables individuals to build better connections.
Dealing with different power dynamics within teams can be a difficult task to overcome. It’s important to work out what the rules are and where they lie, Georgie explained. Sean added that “information is power. People tend to fail to understand the basics of the business. Immerse your people in this value to build more credibility amongst everyone, instead of breaking others down,” Finally, Joe said to learn the language of the other partners and ensure that everyone understands each other’s positions.
Closing out the session, the panel offered a single piece of advice for the audience to take away from the session:
- Sean: “Read The Culture Map by Erin Myer. It will help understand how different cultures make decisions across the globe”
- Phil: “Simplify your language. Take it back to simple communication to take it back to the real world. If you wouldn’t use it in a bar with a friend, don’t use it.”
- Joe: “Learn the language of the other people in your teams.”
- Georgie: “Ask for help from other product people. Trust that other leaders won’t mind that you dig into their brains.”