It’s rare a team can complete their work without the help of other teams, whether it’s software teams working with product teams to deliver new features to customers, or HR teams working with executives to determine how to best develop employees. But most teams don’t think about maintaining their relationships with these other teams—and the result is often miscommunication, missed deadlines, and frustration.
No matter if you’re a new team coming together, or if you’ve been established for years, having a shared understanding of which teams you work with and who’s critical to your success is key. A Network of Teams exercise can help your team map out adjacent groups, identify the people involved in the success of a project, and ensure healthy cross-team collaboration.
Here’s how you run this play, which should take 45-90 minutes, depending on the size of your team. I recommend limiting the number of participants to no more than 10 people.
If your team is distributed, try these Trello or Mural templates, or use another whiteboarding tool to allow everyone to collaborate in the same digital space. If you are together, you can have some fun with big sheets of paper and some sticky notes to initially create the network. The network needs to end up in a digital tool so you can share it with others and update it over time.
Brainstorm teams you’re connected with today. For each team identified, organize them by two characteristics—the type of team, and the influence of the team.
For type of team, the categories are:
- Delivery teams: Teams that make things, and deliver them to users, readers, or customers. (e.g. development teams).
- Service teams: Teams that support internal or external customers by handing incoming tickets.
- Leadership teams: Teams of executives and managers who make decisions and build context for other teams.
- Project teams: Temporary teams that build and execute plans to complete specific initiatives.
- Business teams: Teams that drive profit and loss and fulfill needs in the customer journey.
For influence, the categories are:
- Critical to our success: Teams that have a significant impact on your team’s ability to achieve its goal. All key stakeholders and sponsors should be included here.
- Involved in our success: These are teams you may depend on for some aspects of a project, but if an issue occurred, you could work around things to still achieve the ultimate goal.
- Off the radar: Teams that aren’t currently crucial to the success of your goal.
If there are more than five teams listed, have your team do a vote to help prioritize whose relationships are most important. I usually give everyone three votes they can distribute across the critical teams.
For each of those top critical teams, assign an owner to manage the relationship from within your team. I recommend no one person take more than one; it’s everyone’s job to help build these relationships, and they should be spread across the team. This doesn’t mean you have to do all the work for this relationship. It simply means you’ll reach out to that team to start figuring out how your teams can work better going forward.
Now it’s time to discuss the interaction strength between your team and each team you’ve determined to be critical. Draw lines to indicate the strength of the most critical interactions between teams.
- Solid line: Systemic interactions are happening (for example, you have a regularly scheduled meeting or dedicated Slack channel).
- Dashed line: You’re using more ad-hoc interactions (like relying on a personal relationship, or collaborating in a way that’s reactive, not proactive).
- Dotted line: This relationship requires new collaboration methods.
Relationship owners should set up a time with the teams to start the conversation on how the teams collaborate going forward. Just like a retrospective, your team should come back and reassess these relationships on a regular basis. I recommend re-running this play every six months to assess how current relationships are evolving and see if new relationships need to be built.
Meaningful work is impossible to achieve alone. Come back to this play to strengthen your network of teams to tackle the toughest challenges together.
Mark Cruth is Atlassian’s resident Modern Work Coach. Focused on practice over theory, Mark spends his days coaching both Atlassian and customer teams on new ways of working, then sharing what he’s learned at events around the world.