How product managers can get their teams on the same page
This podcast is getting a new name—Product Masters Now. The name officially changes in a few weeks, but I want you to know it is coming. You don’t need to do anything to keep listening, but it will show in your podcast player not as The Everyday Innovator™ but as Product Masters Now. The logo will look the same—just the name is changing.
Effective product managers are good communicators and can get team members aligned to meet the objectives of a product. However, that is easier said than done. Knowing a few simple tools to create team alignment, getting everyone on the same page, makes a big difference in your success and the success of your products.
To help us with those tools, Dr. Stefano Mastrogiacomo, a project management professor, consultant and author fascinated by human coordination, joins us.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:30] Why do some teams underperform?
Teams underperform when members work around each other and not with each other. This is caused by two factors:
- The team climate is unsafe psychologically—trust is lacking; there may be conflict.
- When the team activities are poorly aligned—when teams do not understand and trust each other, they experience confusion.
[4:17] How can we recognize an unsafe team climate, and what are its effects?
Visible symptoms of an unsafe climate include lack of recognition, disengagement, and team members losing the joy of working together. As Amy Edmondson said, psychological safety is the belief that the team is safe enough for interpersonal risk-taking. When the team is not psychologically safe, we’re afraid to speak up and share new ideas, and that undermines innovation. Because of fear, we won’t wake up the collective genius.
Trust and psychological safety are cousins. Trust is the perception that I can be vulnerable with you, and psychological safety describes a climate of trust. We all can tell very rapidly whether we’re in a place that’s psychologically safe. When we are, we have joy and motivation. We want to wake up and go work with people we enjoy working with. During my academic research, we followed several teams to measure the impact of mutual clarity on task performance. We also included a question on motivation in our survey. We did nothing to encourage motivation, but surprisingly we found that the teams with greater mutual clarity had greater motivation. We concluded that motivation is a consequence of mutual clarity and mutual trust.
[10:07] What are your tools to help teams improve?
The high impact tools for teams improve the quality of everyday interactions, especially related to clarity on team processes and psychological safety. The five tools are:
- Team Alignment Map—structured discussion to help every team member clarify their individual contribution to the team
- Team Contract—clarifies the rules of the team before problems occur
- Respect Card—checklist of ways to show respect and recognition
- Fact Finder—helps team members ask good questions to decrease perception gaps and improve mutual understanding and trust
- Non-Violent Requests Guide—manages conflict and allows team members to express discontent or disagreement in a non-judgmental way leading to a constructive dialogue
I divide the tools into blue pill tools and red pill tools. The Team Alignment Map is a Blue bill tool that clarifies team processes, mission, and goal. Red pill tools improve trust, and include the Team Contract, Respect Card, and Non-Violent Requests Guide. The Fact Finder is a hybrid of a blue pill tool and a red pill tool.
[16:08] How does the Team Alignment Map help teams?
The Team Alignment Map is most powerful when used for a new team, new project, or new collaboration. The map is a poster divided into four columns. Teams put the poster on a whiteboard, discuss each area, and fill in the columns. The four areas are:
- Joint Objectives: What do we want to achieve together? Write down the team’s objectives categorized under the team’s joint missions.
- Joint Commitments: Discuss everyone’s contribution to make the joint objectives happen.
- Joint Resources: What resources do we need to keep the commitments? Do we have what we need?
- Joint Risks: What might prevent us from achieving our objectives?
Once you’ve filled in all four columns, you’ve completed the forward pass. Now everyone has a big picture of the collaboration ahead. Next, you must perform a backward pass to address missing resources and risks. Each missing resource or risk must be connected to a new objective and a new commitment. For example, suppose your objective is to run interviews with clients, and a risk is that the clients might not be available for interviews. In the backward pass, your new objective is to schedule all interviews. You assign a team member to do it and identify resources needed. The backward pass increases the resilience of the team by transforming problems into new activities and commitments. The Team Alignment Map gives the team members common ground to increase our ability to achieve.
[23:37] How does the Team Alignment Map contrast with traditional product management processes?
Often, traditional product management teams receive tasks to complete, but there’s not a common understanding of how each person’s work contributes to the project. The Team Alignment Map gets everyone on the same page and provides the big picture. The map doesn’t replace any product management methods, but it does improve communication, which is a key element of many methods. Mutual understanding is a collaborative process, and the Team Alignment Map helps the team align from the beginning. There’s less need for them to use memos and other documents to communicate during the project, since they’re already on the same page.
Action Guide: Put the information Stephano shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” ― Niels Bohr
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.