Opening #mtpcon in San Francisco, Christina Wodtke turned our focus to our teams. Among the many jobs product managers perform, team coordinator is often added to the list. This isn’t a job that product managers should have to do, but like many other tasks, “if it ain’t happening, you’ve gotta fix it.” Christina told us how to reboot the team you have, or build a healthy one from the ground up.
Moving From a Work Group to a Team
The lowest level of team is not really a team at all, but a work group. This is typically found in areas like sales or customer service, where the team members are generally just following the direction of a manager, but acting relatively independently in day to day tasks. To turn a work group into a team, you need to have:
- A common purpose: an objective to rally the team around
- Performance goals: key results for the team to aim for, and complete the unified vision
- Complimentary skills: a balanced mixture of people who know customers, know the market, or know implementation
- Mutual accountability: everyone on the team holds each other accountable – not just the boss
Developing Into a Learning Team
We live in a time where everything is changing really fast. So your team needs to constantly be learning. Learning teams go through several phases of development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. While this process is typically depicted in a linear fashion, Christina suggests that once a team forms, the process of storming, norming, and performing is really more cyclical, with the team starting over as the environment shifts.
As a team moves through each of these stages, they must focus on three areas:
- Goals: your OKRs
- Roles: beyond the functional role, intentionally set the informal roles of the group (helpful tip from Christina: the tall guy shouldn’t always be the decider, and the chick shouldn’t always take the notes!)
- Norms: to avoid stepping on each others feet, make team rules for how you wish to work together
Once you have set goals, roles, and norms, continue to give feedback (both individually and as a team through retrospectives), re-evaluate how they are working for your team on a quarterly basis, and adjust as needed.
Advancing to a Mindful Team
It is important to remember that you own your team’s health. But if you can convince your team to own their health, you’ll have more time to do other things. Getting your team to provide healthy feedback to each other and own their culture is incredibly hard. It requires the team to develop great empathy for each other and be vulnerable to create an open dynamic for feedback on what individuals do well, how they can change, and how the team can use this information to work better together. This level of feedback can be powerful, but difficult to achieve.
A Final Word
Christina summed up her talk by recapping how to reboot your team:
- Treat quarters as do-over moments
- Set goals, roles, and norms
- Check weekly to make sure you are living your intention
- Correct: take time at the end of the quarter, evaluate and make changes
Most importantly, Christina reminded us that in teams, we’re going to get angry, tired, and frustrated. But remember that everyone else is angry, tired, and frustrated too. We need to be kind to people. We need to be compassionate. She left us with a quote from Dr. John Watson (the real one): “Be kind to everyone you meet, for they too are fighting a great battle.”