At Current, Director of Engineering Lewis Tong compares poor collaboration to the old-school game of “telephone.”
In other words, when teams rely on a middleman to relay information, exchanges drag on unnecessarily and critical insight often gets lost in translation.
This confusing communication causes significant issues in the long run. “It can lead to disengaged peers, which manifests as project delays and lower-quality deliverables,” Tong said.
While establishing transparent communication and connection is critical, teams must also stay aligned. That’s why Learning and Development Manager Ilana Weinstein makes an effort to ensure everyone is aware of challenges and expectations when heading into a project.
“I try to create those North Star goals for my programs and initiatives,” she said.
Through a combination of open communication, relationship building and continuous alignment, teams across Current drive effective collaboration that leads to stronger people — and products.
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Overcommunication is Key
In Tong’s mind, it’s easy to see when teams know how to collaborate. “Well-coordinated teams will see regular participation from members in providing constructive feedback to the business,” he said. “It’s a sign team members understand that their insights and feedback play an important role in driving innovation, problem solving and continuous improvement.”
Tong noted that he relies on two-way conversations to garner team members’ perspectives — and, so far, this approach has worked well. He regularly receives questions following all-hands meetings, which he reviews in a group setting to ensure everyone has a chance to share their opinions on the subject.
“Overcommunicating is always preferred over leaving room for misunderstanding,” Tong said.
“Overcommunicating is always preferred over leaving room for misunderstanding.”
To maintain consistent overcommunication across his team, Tong encourages team members to converse frequently over Slack and share information during biweekly check-ins, retrospectives or spontaneous chats. He added that it’s important to ensure these conversations have an agenda, as they can easily become “productivity traps.”
When it comes to communication, Weinstein prefers to be consistent. She does this by holding weekly one-on-ones, updating her peers often, maintaining transparency when discussing roadblocks and asking for feedback.
Sharing knowledge is a critical component of Current’s culture, and it’s been made easier by the company’s newly launched goal-tracking framework. According to Weinstein, this framework provides everyone a view of exactly where each department is on a given initiative. The metrics associated with this framework are reviewed during monthly all-hands meetings.
“It’s the most transparency around goals I’ve ever seen in a role before,” Weinstein said.
STAYING COLLABORATIVE WHILE SCALING
Collaboration can be harder to maintain as a company grows. To tackle this challenge, Current leverages cross-functional working groups, which bring together members of different departments who own the end-to-end delivery of a project. “This allows us to streamline discussions and ceremonies, such as standups, with focused agendas that are a better use of everyone’s time,” Tong said. “It helps team members identify key contributors and clarify their responsibilities, as it leads to better accountability and empowers them to drive each milestone forward.”
Tong added that the company also follows a request-for-comments process, which is an early step in project execution that involves drafting a comprehensive document to break down and disambiguate essential components, such as product definitions and user stories. “The document is contributed to and reviewed by all cross-functional teams involved and allows them to align their perspectives, fostering a sense of collective ownership and accountability for the project’s success,” he said.
Building Interpersonal Relationships
When building programs in her role as a learning and development manager, Weinstein strives to understand both the skills she’s teaching as well as how these skills fit into employees’ day-to-day work.
“Learning and development isn’t one-size-fits-all, so by getting to know as many people as possible through the organization, I can design better programs,” Weinstein said.
“Learning and development isn’t one-size-fits-all, so by getting to know as many people as possible through the organization, I can design better programs.”
Interpersonal understanding also plays a large role for Tong, who oversees Current’s mobile engineering team. By taking part in “brown-bag lunches,” engineers get to learn about work being done in other departments.
Tong added that engineers can also use their team retrospectives to share “kudos” with their peers and offer feedback to the leadership team. So far, team members have been more than willing to take part in these initiatives, reflecting the openness that defines Current’s culture.
These efforts to drive communication, connection and alignment not only have obvious benefits on a team-specific level, they go beyond the individual and team — influencing the entire company.