Interpersonal relationships are the building block of all human organizations, including (and especially) businesses. The way people treat one another individually, on teams, and in the organization as a whole are directly correlated to the overall performance level of the organization and the quality of the work that it produces. Most businesses operate as multiple overlapping sets of teams, and those teams can include designers, engineers, executives, product designers, marketers, technical specialists, finance, and people filling many other roles. It is vital that designers learn to communicate and work with the people who fill all of these roles.
The basic approach to collaborating with people from different disciplines is fairly simple, and has three key elements:
1. Know what is important to people in this discipline — i.e., what are their values
2. Know how to communicate with people from this discipline — i.e., how do they explain themselves, and how can you make yourself understood
3. Know how to work closely with people from this discipline — i.e., how to get things done effectively and productively together
In part, you gain this knowledge through doing — it is by interacting with people on the engineering team that we come to understand how to better interact with people on the engineering team. Practice makes perfect. However, it isn’t a Catch-22 — there are things you can understand from the beginning that will make your interactions flow more smoothly and more productively.
(A cautionary note — remember that although we are talking about groups of people, each individual is unique and has their own style — so while you may start out with certain assumptions about a person, what they value, and how to communicate and work with them based on what kind of work they do, be sure that you let your experience with that specific person inform you as time goes on.)
Marketing teams need to be empowered to add value to the conversation. Misalignment between marketing and other teams will reduce efficiency and productivity; marketing has to have good data about what’s happening in order to make smart decisions. Effectively communicating with marketing teams There are four steps to effective marketing communication. These include acquire support from leadership, implement technology to support alignment and communication, align around the same metrics and sharing feedback. It’s important here for sales and marketing to maintain a continuous feedback loop.
Business teams appreciate straight shooters, communicators who are confident in their opinions and tactful in their delivery. Be specific when you speak — avoid vagueness and hand waving. Vagueness gives the impression of unsureness and timidity, both of which are unappealing in a business leader. Be prepared for your meetings with other team members. Map out your agenda for the meeting well in advance, and make a well-organized document outlining the points of discussion, questions, concerns and strategies you want to discuss.
Don’t be afraid to seek outside help and guidance on questions where your own expertise is less than total. Nobody can be an expert at everything — your team members will respect you for seeking their input. For many designers, financial issues are outside our training. If you aren’t a numbers person, then ask the accounting department to explain the principles that you don’t fully grasp, and check that the financial numbers on your plans make sense before you present them to your colleagues. Financial communications, even more than communication on other subjects, needs to be timely and clear. One of the best investments you can make in your own skill set is to take training courses on financial topics relevant to your work.
Draw all of your team members together by ensuring that they each feel a sense of personal ownership in the team’s goals. This can be done in a number of ways. One way is to bring other team members in at the early stages of planning new ideas and approaches, so that they feel that they are in on the ground floor and their ideas are an important part of the new product. On an ongoing basis, have every team member facilitate meetings from time to time. Anyone can facilitate a meeting but be sure that you give them time to prepare so that they do well and build their confidence with a successful meeting.