How to build a high-performance product team  Recruit. Invest. Grow.
How to build a high-performance product team  Recruit. Invest. Grow.

How to build a high-performance product team Recruit. Invest. Grow.

In one of our previous articles we talked about product tools and techniques that will help your team thrive in a competitive market. Today we go back to another crucial aspect that every organization should have in mind when starting to build a new app or platform: the product team.

You’ve probably heard before how the team is actually THE heart of any company, but what does building a team take? When you start recruiting your team for a certain project, do soft skills count as much as experience? What aspects do you focus on when you start building a team and how can you lead the new team towards an agile way of working?

Fear not, we have you covered! Buckle up for a journey that will cover the 3 most important steps in recruiting a product team, but also what happens when this stage is over, and the creation process begins. You’ll get acquainted with clear checklists for building up a team that is capable of delivering the final product to an audience ready to embrace it.

It takes a team to tango: recruiting the product team

Photo by Toufic Mobarak

When recruiting a product team, a clear overview on what your organization needs from it and what you want the team to achieve is of the utmost importance. Like with everything in life, knowing what you want and wording that out is critical.

With that in mind, we’ve wrapped up for you the 3 most important steps in recruiting a team:

The vision

We usually start from scratch. An idea is born, and the plan grows around it. As you develop the plan, you also need an articulate vision of the product you want to build and why you want to do it. Without it, you’re stuck into a sterile “in the beginning, there was nothing.”

A team that will see a clear and argumentative vision about a product will embrace it and go above and beyond for it.

If you’re wondering what a product vision sounds like, start dwelling on the following interrogations: Why is your product important and why will it make a difference? What’s the added value? How will it be better than the rest or the similar (or not so similar) products on the market? These are a few of the questions you should have the answer to, before starting recruiting a product team.

Remember! It’s important to treat the recruitment process like a “pitch session”. Try selling your idea to the team you want on your side – you need to get their attention, discover their needs, capabilities, passion, and grasp to what extent they’re willing to embark with you on this new journey. Building a product requires attention to such details and a total focus and alignment with the vision of the company.

The communication/collaboration pattern

Communication is king with everything in our life, so it normally applies when building a product too. Being part of a team requires a willingness to collaborate, get instant advice, ask for help when you get stuck in the process etc. The greatest challenge in nurturing a team is growing the habit of open communication, attention to detail and empathy.

3 things to look for when recruiting a product team

1. Do the candidates listen?

Are they able to step back and just actively listen when needed, when they are talked to? Or are they more inclined to speak up and cover everyone else regardless of the situation at hand? Although everyone’s point of view should get enough “publicity”, it’s equally important to hear what the other members of the team have to say. Everyone’s point of view should get a fair chance to be heard and every team member should naturally create a safe space for feedback.

In addition to working in an agile way, communication and collaboration are part of the foundation for building up the product.

2. Are the candidates choosing the right model of communication?

During the creation process, occasionally verbal communication may save the day, but written communication is proven to save a lot of effort that otherwise gets wasted when alignment remains strictly verbal.

Adopting an agile way of working that sustains unified communication paves the way. Even so, you still need to check that candidates can easily identify the right communication channel and are feeling comfortable to juggle with communication patterns across emails, phone calls, virtual meetings, instant messaging, etc.

3. Are the candidates making sure their message is understood?

When conveying a message, it may sound clear enough in one’s mind, but the receiver can decipher it in a whole different way than intended. It’s crucial to have the certainty that the message was well understood, so the flow of production can carry on undisturbed.

Making sure your message is perceived as intended could mean to revisit the conversation, repeat certain stages of the message and simply ask if the teammate has questions, concerns, maybe something to add, in one word: ask for feedback. This method can help you be certain that the message was understood loud and clear, but it can also prove useful to polish or adapt your own communication methods for the future.

The experience

There’s a Belgian proverb that says “Experience is the comb that nature gives us when we are bald.” So, how bald should your team-members be? This of course depends on the organization’s needs, and it takes us back to the vision part, when we mentioned how important it’s to have a clear view on needs and goals.

In the case of a product team, you need expertise in areas such as product management, UX, product analytics and product marketing.

For example, having qualified UX specialists is imperative because they are “the emphatic messengers” of the product that the team is trying to build. They don’t promote the product per se, not in a traditional way at least. They do however “put it out here” so that the customers can interact with it and have their say about it.

They conduct user research and identify what’s the right audience for the product, but more importantly IF that audience really finds the product idea useful and would be eager to adopt it. They build user story maps (see how the audience would interact with the product), create wireframes, mockups and rapid-prototypes, and perform usability testing.

UX experts attend to all these matters, while constantly sharing information with the product team and finding intermediate or final solutions to resolve possible issues that might arise. They act like empathizers, testers, collectors, and interpreters of data that must be used in building the product. In one word: design thinking (OK, two words).

Here’s how we approach product building. This rapid prototyping workshop with our client BCR Erste has helped us validate product truths with the help of end-users through instant feedback. In 48 hours we shortcut months of continuous work in the blind.

May I have this dance? Building the product team

The challenges that we can anticipate in growing the product team are extremely relevant and useful for the actual process of recruitment. Look at the top things that can make and break your team. Take your reasons of concern – can be anything from trust and collaboration to feedback and celebrating success – and see how your candidates respond to them as you validate synergies.

Once you’ve recruited your product team, you need to establish your working grounds or shared ways of working. Going agile can prove challenging even when you have all the right tools at hand, because in the end it all comes down to what people make of it.

Patrick Lencioni developed what is known as “The 5-dysfunction pyramid” – a very open, clear way of identifying the current challenges that a team might come across in the process of working together and which must be addressed continuously.

Here are 5 things a team leader should have in mind, focus, and act towards when coordinating a product team:

The absence of trust

Trust is the foundation for everything. Trust between team members, between them and leadership, etc. It starts from the top all the way down. Allowing yourself as a team leader to be vulnerable and openly share your concerns, maybe even limitations or frustrations when it comes to the project, will result in an immediate connection with the team members who will feel comfortable enough to reciprocate. It’s important to acknowledge what’s not working and to go back to the team for their expert support while you keep your focus on solutioning – not venting, not criticizing, not panicking.

Being that open will also make up for a positive environment where people come together not just for work, but also for interacting with one another.

The fear of conflict

One of the main challenges in a team is building a way for all the members to get along. Sometimes you can be faced with an artificial harmony that carries a lot of passive-aggressive behaviors underneath. Encouraging team members to voice out their point of view in a decent, respectful manner helps ease the tension and facilitates better communication and delivery of the product.

Lack of commitment

When team members don’t have a clear view over the product idea, they don’t believe in it. Hence, staying committed to finishing a task, developing a feature or contributing to the entire process of building a product will not come easily. It becomes critical to cover all these concerns and differentiate what each member needs to fully become committed to their role on the team.

Avoidance of accountability

It is said that “a comfort zone is beautiful, but nothing ever grows there”. This also applies within a team.

Sometimes, certain team members can feel uncomfortable expressing their own opinions (and concerns) about other teammates, in regard to their performance. Not being able to hold honest conversations about what worries them has a direct or indirect impact on the product and may escalate in losing interest towards the project, frustration and conflicts.

It’s important for team leaders to have open individual conversations with team members and establish if they are able to communicate amongst each other their concerns, and also if they feel comfortable sharing their worries with them.

Inattention to results

People tend to have and set up individual results, that’s why the leader should speak about the teams’ goals and bring those into focus along the process of building the product. This way, each member will be made aware of the group’s importance and will interpret the result as a common effort rather than an individual one.

Throughout the years, the concept of working as a team has evolved and has been seen in different ways, but one thing remains the same: it’s a process that can’t be deeply or entirely covered in articles, books, or reports because of the uniqueness at individual and team level. Other than that, we’re constantly changing and evolving, and so are the challenges that come along our way.

Bringing people, processes, connectivity, and technology together, through agile working, embracing process automation or rapid-prototyping and working with subject-matter experts influence tremendously the products that you’re building and how you’re delivering them to the market. Human behavior, including leadership behavior, however matters just as much, sometimes even more.

Beside access to the latest technologies or tools, teams need constant guidance from their leaders. Their motivation relies on a thriving environment, where they can feel safe to share ideas, exchange perspectives and get fully committed to delivering the product.

Fun fact: Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University was built as an eco-friendly structure, on a round architectural pattern, because one of the main ideas was to eliminate corners and have classrooms where round tables would be placed, so the students could sit alongside their masters and exchange point of views. This way, the so-called superiority of the professor is no longer perceived as a negative thing.