BuildingĀ multi-discipinary teams is a great way to get the best out of your staff

“Collaborative Working isĀ hard“. We’ve heard this from so many of our clients over the years, and often they really struggle with the conflict between Generalism vs. Specialism, and even how to start working in a collaborative manner.

If you go into hospital for a major operation you wouldn’t expect the ward receptionist to administer the anaesthetic, nor would you expect a nurse to carry out the procedure, or the surgeon to perform post-operative care – so why do we expect so many of our software engineers to be “full stack developers”, or our operations teams to have a complete understanding of everything that happens in the process before our product reaches them?

Start by analysing your product, working out which roles are important, and then build your team from there. If you work in the technology industry, then we’d recommend that a team contains at least one individual for each function of the following:

  • Someone who understands the culture of your organisation and can support the team through any transformation processes required
  • Gathering Customer Requirements
  • Security
  • Marketing/Sales
  • Software Development
  • Operations
  • Customer Support

A dedicated finance person to sign-off architectural decisions from a business perspective, or a dedicated Human Resources expert to help when the team needs to grow could also be excellent assets to the team, but ask them first, don’t just assume!

Make sure that each product team has at least one specialist from each discipline within your organisation and give them the space and the time to support each other, especially during an emergency.

Foster a “specialist support network” to improve collaborative working

Your organisation probably already uses Slack, HipChat, or a similar tool to collaborate within teams, but do you have channels dedicated to help on a particular subject?

Setup channels within Slack/HipChat/etc. for help with your cloud provider and invite the experts in your organisation to contribute useful blog posts or answer questions from others who are less advanced in their knowledge.

A channel on diversity and how it can be improved within your organisation, or other channels for those from under-represented groups to express how they feel working within your company could be a good place to start, but remember that diversity is a subject that needs to be handled with sensitivity – one approach could be to make sure that the people who are facilitating these channels have appropriate training and are able to address concerns as they arise.

Ensure that everyone knows what to do in the event of a major incident

The citizens of Hawaii were recently treated to a test of emergency procedures due to someone pressing the wrong button.

Your organisation probably isn’t facing the threat of attack by a nuclear rogue state however, if your office lost power, or there was a natural disaster that prevented your staff from getting to work, would your teams know what to do?

Make sure that you have a Disaster Recovery/Major Incident Plan in place that you can practice with, and make sure that you practice the steps in that document so it becomes second nature to your teams when an emergency or other disaster does befall your organisation.

Our blog post on writing Disaster Recovery/Major Incident Plans could be useful here.

Team Work

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? In order to achieve better collaboration, we need to work together.

Unfortunately for many of our clients in the past a decision has been made to “work collaboratively” without much thought as to what this actually means, leading to loads of changes to the working environment (“conversation pods”, “breakout areas”, “collaboration zones”, and even talk of ball pits/zip wires!) without having any actual effect on the way in which the staff within those organisations work.

In an emergency services setting, it’s often an unwritten rule that the team leaves when the last person finishes their work, encouraging people to work together to ensure that everyone finishes by the end of the shift. This may not be appropriate in your organisation, however, it’s worth looking at how you interact with your colleagues on a day to day basis, and see if there is a way in which you can adjust the way you work in order to help them.

If everyone starts to think about the “knock-on” effects of their actions on their colleagues, you’ll have a far more collaborative workforce than if you install a beer fridge, and there’s more on this in the next section…

Keep social events inclusive

The office social has become a frequently used tool to bring people together, but have you thought about how inclusive your social gathering might be?

Many people on your team may not drink alcohol, eat meat, or have an interest in sporting events amongst other things, so before you setup an all you can eat steak night watching your local team play at their stadium, take time to consult the team on what they would like as part of a team social event.

It may be best to do this anonymously, invite them to send you a message, or drop by your desk to give you their ideas so that members of the team don’t feel pressured into accepting social conventions that put them in a difficult place.

“Do you remember when…”, “No, I didn’t go to that event because I felt uncomfortable attending due to…”, is a sure way to restrict the flow of conversation around the office, yet if the team feel that they have been consulted, and that the agreed event meets the needs of the group, then they are far more likely to take part and enjoy the event.

Successful collaboration is about culture…

The rise of DevOps has seen “Culture” become a key part of Digital Transformation programmes precisely because it encourages the kinds of collaboration that are required for successful teams. If that culture fails to be inclusive, or doesn’t take account of the needs and wants of your teams, then the culture of collaboration will be a lot harder to achieve.

If you’re interested in how Mockingbird Consulting can help your teams collaborate further, then please email info@mockingbirdconsulting.co.uk.

We’d like to especially thank all those who helped us with the diversity content of this post, it’s great to work with people who come from different backgrounds and can give a perspective we’d otherwise have missed.

Mockingbird Consulting