In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, which is happening as I write this article, let’s talk about love.
While Business + Technology = Love, a natural tension exists in this marriage between them – two equally important departments that tend to see the other as if one is from Mars and the other is from Venus.
I have watched it work well and not so well across my career. Here’s my advice.
Define what is common
One company. One goal. The first thing your business and technology groups must do is build a foundation on what they have in common, using common language to agree. Start with why you exist and why you do what you do. What is your mission? What is your vision?
What your mission statement says and does not say is important. At defi our mission is “To provide an exceptional lending ecosystem.” It doesn’t say to build or to be the best LOS provider, and neither does it use the words perfect or even great. Which defi team that does the building isn’t relevant and neither is which product is being built. Our company, comprised of business and technology units, provide(s) an exceptional lending ecosystem.
Are your groups sharing a common mission?
A vision statement should give direction on how to make your mission a reality. defi’s vision statement is, “Leverage a knowledge-sharing and insight-driven culture to promote focus and drive growth.” Our technology and business units agree we cannot build an exceptional lending ecosystem if we make decisions based on gut feel or if we try to do it alone, without great partners across the business. And, in what has been a big change for us, we recognize we cannot accomplish our mission unless we use the “F word.” Focus!
Now, it’s time to listen. You’ve agreed on a mission and vision, but your business and technology units will most likely still have very different approaches. Each side must have an equal voice. Each side must listen with ears open and mouths shut. (And, yes, I am saying this as much to myself as I am to you.) Regardless of which ideas are proven the most correct (because there could be shades of correctness in both), it’s important to hear both perspectives. A good working relationship will form from listening — marching alone on the right path is not only lonely, it’s also not as productive — and great ideas will come out of the conversation.
If you are building and listening, trust should come. It’s possible it won’t. It’s possible you have a crazy business team or an over-engineering technology team, but if you decide the other side can be trusted on the first day of your marriage, you will most likely not end up with a broken home.
I have found that the teams function best when business and technology leaders are equally-yoked and respect and complement each other. They lead and their teams can focus on their jobs.
I asked the defi team to give me their insight and examples of what they have seen work well and not well at defi and other workplaces. Here is their insight into eight things that work well.
When it works well (quotes from inside defi):
1. “It comes down to the realization that neither team can see the entire (business-technology) picture…it requires open, honest conversation and debate. And ultimately each team must trust that the other has the greater success of the company in focus.”
2. “In the spirit of freedom and collaboration there must be the perception of teaming or of unity not just in word but in reality. Where tech and business teams can both voice solutions and contribute in the success of the greater company without experiencing a slave-to-master hidden tone or attitude. This is a hard balance to find and usually starts at the top. The shepherds must get along.”
3. “Constant communication; seek buy-in. Deliver early and often with demos and be open to change. One team mindset, not us vs. them.”
4. “As a business partner, I would say the key thing is inclusion. Include me in your tech discussion. Yes, I understand more than you think. Collaborate with the business, we are the voice of the customer. We work closely with the stakeholders, we know what their needs are. This goes a long way in creating great customer experiences and client satisfaction.”
5. “Trust the technology expert. (Ask questions, get details, but remember you’re not a dev, dba, or network specialist, give them the opportunity to solve problems.)”
6. “Clearly communicate your expectations of a project. When a partner is involved ensure that both the technology team and the developer understand what is needed.”
7. “Accept responsibility and share credit.”
8. “The best thing I’ve seen to make our partnership run smoothly is be out in front of us. Think about where we need to go and describe and plan out in front so we can work together seamlessly.”
I’ll not spend too much time focusing on “when it doesn’t work well.” Rest assured the defi team had plenty to say about the hugely negative impact on project performance and team morale when poor communication, undefined expectations, not listening, and not considering the full impact of decisions on all teams. Instead, I’ll end with these words from one wise team member that are relevant regardless of department:
“Having to have 100 percent proof that something will correct an issue [doesn’t work well]. We all know how important it is to get things right, but sometimes we have to make the best educated guess we can based on the evidence we have to try and correct a situation as quickly as possible.”
What to do next
Maybe now you’re thinking it’s time to get your love languages aligned. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what you should do next.
1. Choose the right goal. Make sure your departments are all going toward the same destination and the same goal; that everyone knows the destination and goal, and you repeat, repeat, and repeat them often.
2. And the right cadence. Once you are all going toward the same destination, help keep each other on track by remembering the goal, but don’t be afraid to brainstorm on the route to get there. Listen, trust, and consider other paths and perspectives. Yours might be faster. But theirs might be better. Compromise means giving a little on both sides to gain a lot.
3. With the right people. Make sure you have the right people — both leading your troops and in the trenches — and don’t be afraid to make the changes you need to bring the greatest good to your organization as a whole.