Tech tools and methodologies are great for productivity. But then why are there still teams sinking down in despair or sluggishness? The short answer: the human factor.
Teams need to find holistic ways to improve teamwork, productivity and happiness. Here I will go over five principles I’ve seen help teams achieve that.
Teams work best when they stick together
Working in software development is awesome. You get to build things, solve real-life problems and learn a lot in the process. The vast majority of developers I know love what they do, and this is beautiful. But being good at solving technical challenges doesn’t necessarily mean being good at doing that within a team.
Having come from a background in law and having been working as a web developer for the past three years, I’ve seen how teams thrive when collaboration is developed around trust, positivity and the ability to solve conflicts, therefore showing commitment not only to the product but especially to each other. Whenever my colleagues and I had the chance to contribute our ideas on how to improve our efficiency, and we acted on those insights, our productivity and overall happiness increased.
I’ve realised that every team operates based on at least a basic system or set of rules, implicitly or explicitly put into place to guide how its members function at work. In tech teams, it’s common to have daily check-in meetings, monthly retrospectives, and synchronous or asynchronous means of communication to stay aligned. But I’ve noticed that most of the time, none of these systems or rules cover the basics of effective collaboration, the real essence of a productive team.
After being part of several different teams in a variety of setups, it became clear to me that effective collaboration lies in how optimally we interact with one another, regardless of the tools, methodologies or means of communication we use.
Over time, I have come to understand that team productivity goes hand in hand with the ability of people to efficiently communicate, collaborate and solve internal conflicts. And how in order to smoothly do that, every team member needs to bring other important ingredients to the table - such as consideration towards each other and the ability to compromise - with the aim of finding proper cohesion and, as a result, increasing the team’s productivity.
My 5 Cs for working in a productive team
When envisioning my ideal work environment, I want to feel like I’m thriving together with my team. I want to be able to efficiently communicate and collaborate with my colleagues so that we can smoothly deliver on our technical goals. However, I’ve found that in order to do that, this group of individuals should align on a set of principles or guidelines, which I call the 5 Cs of productive teams.
Below I explain why these 5 C’s can improve productivity as well as developer experience in a team and how to best implement each of them in our work routine.
Effective collaboration is the ability of people to collectively share knowledge and information in a structured and consistent way in order to successfully cooperate on a single mission, goal, project or task.
Although collaboration is a given for any team working on a common goal, that doesn’t necessarily mean their collaboration is successful. After having worked in a variety of different teams, sectors and organisations, big and small, it became clear to me that collaboration is a key thing that can make teams fail or thrive.
When I first started working in tech, after having a successful career in the law industry, I thought that better documentation on the development process and clear guidelines could be the solution to the collaboration problems I was experiencing. But after being part of teams struggling to synchronise despite clear guidelines or great documentation, I realised that, at the end of the day, successful collaboration is firstly about people, then about processes.
In the most successful projects I worked on, my teammates and I showed great respect and appreciation for each other’s time, work and contribution. We were always willing to support and encourage each other every step of the way. We were also open to giving and receiving feedback and showed flexibility in reassessing our behaviour, decisions or processes, creating an atmosphere of trust and rapport between us. That greatly contributed to our motivation to work on the project and also increased our level of professionalism, making us more efficient, happy and proud to deliver our best work.
From this experience, I’ve made it a ritual to regularly ask myself certain types of questions to evaluate the level of trust, encouragement and overall positivity I feel I’m able to offer to my team:
- Can my team trust or rely on me to support them in any way necessary?
- Do I motivate or encourage my team members?
- Do I listen to others’ voices and respect their fundamental values?
By asking these questions, I am able to self-reflect and think about ways to improve my actions to make sure that I am able to maintain a level of trust and rapport with my colleagues.
This is because, in my experience, a work environment that fosters trust, respect and encouragement between people is better equipped to make genuine and effective collaboration flourish. This leads me to the second C, Consideration, which I take as one of the main pillars of achieving collaboration.
In order to get a team of individuals to smoothly collaborate amongst themselves, a good amount of thoughtfulness must be employed by each and every one of its members. This is where consideration comes in.
Consideration is the capacity to show sympathetic respect for your colleagues in each and every situation with the goal of fully listening and understanding their perspectives. This can be beautifully efficient as it is rare. What usually happens is that we’re mostly waiting for our turn to speak so that our own opinion can be heard and understood without fully taking into consideration each other’s perspectives.
This is actually counterproductive as no fruitful conversation can take place when we’re unable to practice active listening, resulting in teams slowing down, even in the smallest interactions.
As a web developer, I enjoy taking an active part in the Product and Development discussions within my team, but I aim to do that by actively listening to what my colleagues have to say and asking them questions to gain insight into their perspectives. This allows me to be more considerate of their ideas, thoughts and feelings when we’re all working together, helping me take our trust and collaboration to another level. It also helps me to get a sense of their workload, making me more considerate when asking for their guidance or support.
In doing so, my team and I experience more harmony and alignment, making everyday decisions and interactions smoother and more productive.
At work, just as in life, conflicts will inevitably arise. Whether these will negatively impact the productivity of your team heavily relies on your ability to conciliate or, better yet, solve these conflicts.
I’ve seen teams slow down considerably simply because their members couldn’t agree even on the smallest thing. Obviously, if nobody’s willing to conciliate, then conflicts will remain unresolved, and team productivity will suffer. However, when a team does understand the power of swiftly and elegantly solving internal conflicts as soon as it arises, everybody wins and productivity increases.
In order to successfully do this, it’s important for every team member to cultivate the skills needed for conciliation. This means that teams will not have to rely solely on the team lead to solve all conflicts but that we all have the ability to conciliate amongst ourselves.
If you’ve ever successfully solved any conflict in your personal or professional life, you already know that’s easier said than done, but the effort really pays off.
That is why I try to follow these pointers whenever I have a conflict in my team or help out with conflict resolution:
- Practise active listening:
I listen carefully and attentively, trying not to interrupt my interlocutor. I try to refrain from formulating a response while the speaker is talking, and I remain fully present in the conversation. This demonstrates my genuine interest and respect for my team member’s thoughts, feelings and perspectives.
- Identify common goals:
Being part of the same team or organisation is, in essence, working towards a shared goal. With that in mind, it becomes easier for me to see the bigger picture and spot common ground to accommodate even the most different perspectives.
- Encourage perspective-taking:
By attempting to understand the other party’s thoughts, emotions and experiences from their perspective, I’m able to temporarily detach from my own version of the story. This helps in opening up my mind to new ways of thinking so that I can accommodate those that are different from mine and think of different possible solutions.
- Look for win-win solutions:
Instead of relying solely on my personal opinions, I use objective criteria to evaluate potential solutions. I mindfully explore trade-offs by encouraging creativity and the search for mutually beneficial alternatives.
- Use neutral language instead of assigning blame or implying fault:
This prevents disputes from getting personal to the point where they’re hardly solvable. When conciliating conflicts at work, it’s very important to keep the conversation focused on the professional aspects of the dispute, being very careful not to make it sound like a personal attack.
With this approach, I have found that disputes or disagreements at work have a bigger chance of being smoothly solved, and everyone benefits, increasing the team’s harmony and productivity. However, not all conflicts have easy resolutions. This leads me to the fourth C: Compromise.
Whether in conflict resolution, collaborating on a project or making decisions at work, we’re bound to face the need to compromise.
I’ve found that the ability to negotiate trade-offs is of extreme relevance to making teams more productive as less energy is spent on disagreeing with each other or getting too attached to only one’s limited point of view. It does require effort and flexibility to get to the point where different perspectives are fully taken into consideration to find an agreeable settlement, but it pays off.
When I have a conflict with a team member, and the need to compromise arises, I first think about what I’m willing to give up in exchange for gaining something else. I try to be as objective as possible to prevent my personal feelings from clouding my judgment.
I formulate the points of disagreement in my head first, then think of solutions on how to compromise. I communicate it with the leadership as well as with the person involved to gain insight into different perspectives. In doing so, I’m able to see the bigger picture objectively and integrate my team’s ideas and suggestions too.
By communicating objectively with the goal of finding areas of compromise, both my team members and I are able to feel like our interests are being acknowledged and met to some extent. This brings a greater sense of flexibility to our experience, which in turn increases the trust, collaboration and productivity within the team.
Cohesion in a team refers to the degree of unity, solidarity and mutual support among its members. It represents the level of interpersonal bond that exists within the team, leading to a sense of belonging and shared purpose.
A cohesive team collaborates effectively, communicates openly and works towards common goals, resulting in improved performance and productivity.
Therefore, by working on improving the previous Cs, cohesion should naturally follow.
I have seen this work in teams that I have been in when everyone understands that we’re one single unit of complex moving parts. Through consideration, we were all able to properly communicate with each other and through conciliation and compromise, we could solve internal conflicts - all of which allowed us to efficiently collaborate and work more smoothly and productively as a cohesive unit.
We were able to achieve more because we understood, respected and supported each other. We were also able to adapt and adjust in a swift and elegant manner, reducing the noise and the obstacles that prevented us from moving forward.
To me, the 5 Cs are the fundamentals for a respectful and harmonious team culture where genuine and effective collaboration can be made possible. It takes humbleness, thoughtful actions and the ability to make concessions in order to foster a team culture where each member is seen individually as much as an important part of a whole.
As much as I’ve seen a team’s productivity fail, I’ve also seen it thrive when a good amount of effort and awareness is dedicated to implementing the strategies discussed here, especially when the initiatives come from leadership roles.
However, having been working for startups in the last couple of years in a non-leadership position, I’ve seen that more and more individual initiatives to improve team productivity and happiness are being appreciated and given more room to flourish - regardless of the person’s role in the chain of command. This shows that people are slowly starting to understand that good ideas, strategies and perspectives don’t necessarily come from a defined work title but actually from each team member’s unique experiences.
This means that every member of a team has it within their reach to implement these principles (and their own) to improve the way that their teams work together and, as a result, improve their happiness and productivity.
Thaís Santos is a former lawyer turned web developer and very excited about her new career. She is currently working as a Ruby on Rails Engineer at AgForce - The Contractor Software - in Berlin, Germany. When not coding or learning new things, she’s travelling the world, practising Yoga and meditation or wandering and recharging in nature.