The team at Iterative Health knows its way around a complex system. The company develops AI-enabled gastroenterology technology, helping healthcare providers identify microscopic irregularities in parts of the body and improving the clinical trial process.
Its understanding of the interconnectedness of the human body — where a GI disorder may be exacerbated by anxiety or triggered by an immune response — is also a clue as to how the company has stayed so collaborative as it has scaled to nearly 200 employees in recent years.
No system operates in isolation, and, as it has expanded, Iterative Health has been intentional about implementing new processes and communication channels to ensure departments, teams and individuals are working together toward a common goal.
“AI products are some of the most complex technological creations to date,” Mitchell Reddan, a scientific program manager at Iterative Health, told Built In. “It is important to realize that the strongest products are built from the inclusion of a vast array of expert opinions — and to that end, a cross-functional collaboration should empower each team to express their expertise comfortably.”
In 2022, following a $150 million Series B funding round, the company moved into a larger office space in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and today its hybrid team connects both in-person and virtually. It keeps lines of communication open through regular team meetings, one-on-one check-ins, inter-departmental brainstorming sessions and lively Slack channels, said Emma Navajas, a scientific project manager, “all of which provide valuable insights into how teams are collaborating, sharing information and aligning their efforts.”
As it has grown, the company has integrated more formal processes around decision-making, execution, peer review and evaluation. Perhaps more importantly, though, its leaders have created a culture of teamwork and transparency that encourages employees to work together.
A Willingness to Learn
The diversity of backgrounds and fields of expertise at Iterative Health is one of the company’s strengths — but it does mean everyone needs to come into conversations with a sense of curiosity and an openness to change course when necessary, Mohammad Haft, a machine learning manager, said.
“Diversity of perspectives is the key to innovation,” he said. “It’s surprising to see how many blind spots we have in our perspectives that can be easily discovered when other perspectives are received open mindedly.”
Cross-functional meetings aren’t just a chance to represent the interests of one’s own team; they’re also an opportunity to gain new insights into unfamiliar areas and ultimately enrich a project’s outcome. Reddan, for one, said he makes a point of asking his collaborators as many questions as he can to get a better sense of the metrics they use to measure success and the considerations that go into their decision-making process.
“This knowledge can affect how we communicate and present information, how our work product is delivered to another team or how we propose new solutions to project challenges,” he said. “It's important that even though you're bringing your expertise, you speak ‘their language.’”
The Tech Tools That Keep Conversations Flowing
Jira and Asana: Project management software facilitates information sharing and provides transparency around how work is progressing at a glance.
Centralized tracking documents: These are the “town square” of any given project, said Reddan — a space for people to ask questions and understand the efforts of the larger group. “I often can tell if a project is going well by assessing how the ‘town square’ looks,” he continued. “If the centralized tracking documents are messy or incomplete or teams are showing up to meetings but not speaking, that, to me, indicates that a project is struggling. Conversely, documents being actively updated weekly and engaging conversations during cross-functional touch points indicates that a project is progressing successfully.”
Slack: The instant messaging platform is a hub for the company’s distributed team, both for ongoing communication and team bonding in channels like #dogs, #plants and the DIY-focused #renovationstation. They also use Slack for quick ad-hoc huddles and calls when they are not co-located as teammates.
Addressing Conflict Before It Arises
Taking a proactive approach to potential areas of conflict or risk falls under the purview of project managers like Navajas. Open and ongoing knowledge-sharing with stakeholders generally helps keep these at bay, but when they do arise, she said, “I aim to address them constructively, facilitate open dialogue and seek win-win solutions.”
Likewise, Haft said the team makes an effort to follow principles of effective communication: understanding each person’s preferred mode of communication, clearly defining responsibilities, assuming positive intent and minimizing preconceived notions.
In an ideal world, he said, these processes would occur organically. But when teams are up against deadlines and feeling pressured, it’s up to leaders to foster an environment of calm, productive and effective collaboration. This can be achieved “by walking the team through this process and nipping the antipatterns in the bud.”
Making Feedback a Two-Way Street
This system of accountability starts at the top. Early in its expansion, the company implemented all-hands meetings and messages from the CEO to keep the team informed. It has also kept the reverse channel open, so employees can respond to any changes or announcements.
“Leadership encourages team members to openly share their thoughts, concerns and ideas through various channels, serving as a valuable gauge of collaboration and alignment,” said Navajas.
According to Reddan, though, the glue that really keeps the company together is its mission and the people who support it.
“To me, building successful cross-functional collaboration involves cultivating a space where people feel comfortable communicating and are enthusiastic about the project,” he said. “No tools, meetings or documents can compensate for a team that doesn't jive.”