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Effective Teamwork Starts with Shared Terms, Rules and Goals

Effective teamwork won’t happen without a common ground established among all members. Rules and goals that everyone agree to respect are key to a successful cooperation in any kind of project.

Understanding in the First Place

Recently, I’ve read this amazing article about design adventures in Spotify, and I started to think about how important for a successful team are shared principles, goals and vocabulary. As a project manager, I work on different web and mobile projects at the same time. I believe that the success or failure of each project depends on whether all stakeholders are on the same page.

Shared concepts will save you time, money and a lot of stress. It is essential to establish a set of shared concepts before you get invested in actions.

Why It Is Important

Imagine you’re part of a football team. Your team will soon play in a very important match (the World Cup final for example). The problem is you don’t know the rules at all. You have no idea what you are supposed to do, where to run and why everybody is screaming on you. And now imagine if everybody else in the team has forgotten the rules. It would be a real mess, right?

You can’t win if you don’t know the rules of the game you’re playing.

The same applies to any other kind of teamwork. Without a mutual understanding of all the concepts, starting a new project will always be a struggle for team members.

Terms, Rules and Goals

So it’s getting obvious that you need to understand specific vocabulary (pass, goal, offside), rules (each team consists of a maximum of eleven players) and goals/objectives (you need to have more goals scored than the opposite team) to enable your team to even attempt to win the game. Naturally, concepts will vary depending on what you are working at. In web development, we don’t deal with offsides – we deal with pull requests, devops and code review. It is crucial to make sure everybody understands what they mean and how important they are.

Terminology is important because it defines the vocabulary shared among team members. It helps us understand what we are doing. We can have different types of terminology:

  • Names of the processes and departments in your company
    • Product design guidelines
    • Names of components, classes or methods in the code
  • Tables and values in the database

Rules are actions which you should or shouldn’t perform. Those actions can be required, permitted or forbidden. Rules help us define how we’re going to do it. Let us consider a few examples:

  • Project workflow
  • Deployment or QA checklist
  • Weekly, monthly or quarterly procedures (reviews, planning, etc.)

Goals help us understand which direction we should follow and what we want to achieve in the end. Goals answer the question why we’re doing it in the first place. Some examples:

  • Sprint/release goals
  • Product requirements
  • Revenue/sales targets
  • Company’s v2mom
  • Personal goals

How to Create Shared Concepts

Below you can find some recommendations on how to create and maintain shared concepts in your teams.

  • Start with basic terms  –  you need to agree on the main subjects of your work and the most important definitions.
  • Make sure everyone has access to relevant information. Use team collaboration tools to create a knowledge base. I’m really into Confluence, but you just can start with google docs.
  • You won’t have a lot of rules at the beginning, but they’ll emerge naturally due to mistakes people make and obstacles they come across. Make sure you document the rules properly.
  • Set clear goals and make sure everybody knows and understands them.
  • Document changes, irrelevant terminology, rules or goals could cause a lot of problems. Make sure everybody is always up-to-date with any changes.

The above concepts form the core of a team’s existence. Terminology represents the things that they do, rules show how they should do it, while goals indicate the purpose of why they do it. This sort of a map can help you manage your team more effectively and help them go in the right direction.

If you're still building your team, here's a checklist we've published recently that'll help you streamline your recruitment and onboarding processes.

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