Solving complex problems requires complex solutions. For the team at DFIN, keeping goals and processes aligned among cross-functional teams is key to delivering risk and compliance solutions to customers across the financial services industry.
For Chris Murray, director of IT infrastructure, one way to gain a broad perspective is through what he calls “multilayered visioning.”
“The overarching goal needs to be translated into how component teams will realize, measure and deliver solutions,” he said. “The key to gaining alignment is to analyze details from different perspectives.”
Murray’s process not only helps him understand the possibilities for wider projects but also allows him to understand how and why each deliverable, team member and metric is crucial for reaching desired outcomes.
“When we see the piece of a puzzle in front of us, we don’t necessarily see how or where it fits in the wider picture,” he said. “Being able to articulate where each piece fits provides insight into not just the value of the piece but its integral nature in the whole puzzle.”
At DFIN, the process of finding alignment and understanding begins long before development is underway.
“Planning projects upfront, before development starts, allows us to produce well-defined requirements, then translate them into very clear epics and stories, including acceptance criteria,” said James Menke, manager of site reliability engineering.
But that doesn’t mean the DFIN team ends up stuck on conference calls and in endless planning cycles. “We don’t meet just for the sake of meeting,” Menke said. “We meet when necessary to ensure the project and teams are aligned.”
Built In sat down with Murray and Menke to dive into the details of how their teams collaborate to deliver solutions while navigating the ever-changing landscape of today’s markets, regulations and financial industry.
As a company scales, cross-functional collaboration and alignment become more difficult to maintain. How has DFIN navigated this challenge?
Murray: Using collaboration tools definitely aids in maintaining communication as a company scales. Communication, transparency and staying aligned to our common goals form the cornerstone of our relationships.
Our willingness to support each other expands on the trust within the company, and being transparent about the real growing pains that we experience helps us focus on resolving issues. Also, having a strong leadership vision definitely sets the correct tone and direction for collaboration and shared goals.
“Having a strong leadership vision definitely sets the correct tone and direction for collaboration and shared goals.”
In your role, how do you help build a foundation for strong collaboration, communication and alignment across the business?
Murray: I strongly believe in Stephen Covey’s principles as explored in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and “seek first to understand” is key among them. As such, listening is a central skill that we need to employ. If we can listen to our partners, empathize with their challenges and discuss potential solutions with an objective perspective, we can overcome many obstacles that would thwart us individually.
Meeting, communicating where we are, understanding where others are and how we can collaborate together is critical to our success.
Menke: As the manager of site reliability engineering and operations, I lead project teams by setting clear milestones and defining tasks with success criteria and delivery dates. These milestones are communicated on a regular basis to cross-functional teams and to the rest of the engineering organization.
I conduct status-check meetings with all teams to ensure the project’s order of events are in alignment and on schedule.
How does DFIN monitor collaboration and alignment across the business?
Murray: We have a clear directive to work things out collectively. We often see good collaboration through joint presentations across teams on a common subject. These presentations require that the teams are on the same page not just for the purposes of presenting the output, but also for leveraging that alignment to produce relevant outcomes.
When collaboration and alignment are not in place, some of the clear signs include miscommunication and misrepresentation.
Menke: DFIN practices a recurring project review meeting for the entire engineering organization at large. This allows teams which may not normally work together to be aligned with what other teams are doing across the organization.
There are many different teams and projects at DFIN, but we are all still “one DFIN.” If a team has a challenge that needs support from an outside project team, they are encouraged to request whatever is needed to be successful. All of our teams understand and respect this and are willing to provide solutions.
“There are many different teams and projects at DFIN but we are all still ‘one DFIN.’”
What’s a key strategy you employ as a leader to create alignment and build good working relationships across teams?
Murray: One of the key areas that has driven closer working relationships is overcoming challenges together. Sharing a new perspective of what we can collectively overcome builds trust and reliance between the teams.
Those successes need to be celebrated and embraced — they lead to a truly cohesive and successful workplace and workforce. We must also celebrate our intelligent failures, as we try to improve a situation in a new way that may fail but allows us to learn something new.
“We must also celebrate our intelligent failures, as we try to improve a situation in a new way that may fail but allows us to learn something new.”
Menke: A key strategy I employ as a leader is to encourage regular cross-team interactions. Working remotely, we need to adjust how we collaborate in this post-pandemic world. To encourage innovation, I have created optional virtual water cooler meeting rooms for specific topics where stakeholders can join to show progress, ask questions, discuss challenges and work through solutions.
I also manage the root-cause analysis process here at DFIN. I practice and promote a blameless RCA culture. This helps team members be more collaborative and less defensive during postmortems so they can focus on ways to prevent the recurrence of a problem from resurfacing.
What have you done to better understand your colleagues on other teams and the work they’re doing?
Murray: Listen and share. Transparency is the best approach, as taking diverse perspectives into account helps us improve. Collaborating with other teams has been crucial to improving stability within the environment by helping to understand how other teams’ activities translate to workloads on other teams.
Menke: If I am made aware of any technical planning meetings where disparate teams will need to work together on a shared goal, I request the project managers to invite me as an optional attendee. This helps me keep my finger on the pulse of the different work streams across the engineering org as well as allows me to see the different teams and individuals perspectives firsthand. The experience of interacting with diverse teams has proved to be the best way to cross-pollinate technical knowledge between team members. This collaborative approach helps to define best practices at DFIN.