The Web industry is loaded with some of the globe’s brightest minds and revolutionary technologies. Yet, designers, developers, copywriters and other Web types repeatedly fail to reach their full collective capacities. The blame is typically put on big egos or lack of understanding, which is in line with such generalizations as the following: Designers care only about a website’s looks and have no regard for business objectives or user experience. Developers just want a website to work right, and will kill the design to make it happen. Copywriters want to show off their flashy vocabulary—and cause countless rounds of revisions.
These are widespread stereotypes, chiefly shaped within the industry. But what’s the true culprit that hinders teamwork in the Web industry? The famous line from Cool Hand Luke says it best: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Communication Is Key
Good communication is one of the keys to successfully planning, building, launching and maintaining a project, especially on the Web, where people could be scattered across continents. Yet, we’re all guilty of taking communication for granted, thinking: “Talking to people isn’t that hard.”
Whether you’re conversing in a cubicle, updating in BaseCamp or Skyping across the ocean, certain communication essentials will help you:
- Increase productivity,
- Avoid and solve problems,
- Enhance working relationships,
- Promote personal satisfaction,
- Complete projects on time and on budget,
- Create better results and happier clients.
Build Mutual Respect
Whether you’re a designer, developer, copywriter, information architect or SEO specialist, a little knowledge and appreciation of what others bring to the table goes a long way to fostering productive group efforts.
The following are some common Web trades and their usual roles:
Web designers solve problems and create online experiences through the thoughtful, deliberate application of design. Tapping into the right side of the brain, they take into consideration how a website will look and be used.
Web developers program a website’s functionality. These left-brain analytical thinkers consider what a website has to do and how it will do it, and then they choose software and write the necessary code.
Web copywriters craft copy to convey key messages, attract and engage visitors and entice them to take action.
Information architects analyze and organize functionality and content into a structure that allows users to navigate and find relevant information quickly and intuitively.
SEO specialists arrange and manipulate on- and off-site elements—from servers to software to content, and including keywords and links—to help a website get high search engine rankings.
Recognize Break-Down Points
Mutual respect fosters mutual benefit. Lack of knowledge of or consideration for others’ roles, objectives and requirements, on the other hand, can lead to significant frustration, delays and even clashes.
For example, a traditionally trained graphic artist might not take the basic usability or navigation of the website they are designing into consideration, which can cause grief for the developer and subpar results.
A developer who isn’t aware of the importance of design might overlook certain visual details, thus breaking the design’s integrity.
Likewise, a traditional copywriter who has limited knowledge of information architecture, navigation, link strategies or the Web in general could hinder search engine ranking, usability and conversions.
Learn to Listen
When discussing a project with colleagues, are you really listening? Coincidentally, Are You Really Listening? is the title of a book by Dr. Paul Donoghue and Dr. Mary Siegel, in which they note, “We hear not what is important to the speaker, but what matters most to us.”
They go on to explain that we become effective listeners only when we acknowledge that we have a lot to learn. This is valuable, practical advice, especially when you’re collaborating with specialists who could give you a wealth of insight into different views, trends and technologies.
What else can one do to become a good listener? Health Resource Network’s Dr. Morton Orman suggests that we need to listen without thinking about how we’re going to respond:
Much of the time when people are speaking to us, our heads become filled with our own personal thoughts and agendas… [we’re] thinking how we’re going to respond. But to listen well, you must put these thoughts aside and “be with” the other person. You’ve got to fully attend to their words and inner emotions. You’ve got to actively work to “put yourself in their shoes” and listen to them speak. And you’ve got to keep your mind open to discover the value or merit in whatever the other person says.
Intel Corporation CEO Andrew Grove sums it up well: “How well we communicate is determined not by how well we say things, but by how well we understand.” This understanding can give us a deeper appreciation for how co-workers approach issues—whether they’re right- or left-brain dominant—and for how our decisions and actions might affect them.
Put Goals And Expectations On The Table
Never assume that your expectations are self-evident or that they’re clearly understood and shared by your colleagues. Doing so could come back to bite you, your team and your project. Whatever the level of expertise among your co-workers, defining, stating and managing expectations is important. This way, everyone begins on the same page and understands where the project is going. So, from the start:
- Articulate points clearly,
- Find common ground,
- Agree on goals.
Define Roles and Responsibilities
Web projects run best when everyone clearly understands their duties. To help individuals focus on their roles and secure commitments, ensure that each player has a clear-cut definition of their responsibilities, both individually and relative to the rest of the group.
When employees feel a sense of responsibility and ownership, they recognize that they’re making a valuable contribution to the team, and productivity soars. By contrast, failing to define roles and responsibilities creates confusion over who is accountable for what, in turn killing coordination and leading to turmoil and delays.
For example, you, your developer and your copywriter might each have sufficient knowledge to plan and build the website’s information architecture, but that responsibility must be clearly assigned. Otherwise, you could waste valuable time and resources duplicating work or waiting for a ball that dropped a week ago.
Mind Details and Keep Commitments
Teamwork is often seen as a warm, blissful, abstract concept. But it’s actually a bunch of concrete individual actions that are carried out for the greater good of the project.
When team players don’t hold themselves accountable, the outcome is usually sloppy work and late product deliveries, which means angry clients and lost profit. When each player instead pays careful attention to and acts on details of the project, deadlines are met and the outcome is almost always satisfying.
“A strong and balanced performance ethic spells the difference between widespread team performance versus random team success,” note Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith in The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization.
They suggest that high-performance teams are deeply committed to their purpose, goals and approach. Team members are also highly committed to one another and demonstrate this through disciplined action.
Accordingly, you must set and maintain schedules and high performance standards and encourage team members to hold each other accountable. Peer pressure can be a greater motivator than policies and systems.
Build an “emotional bank account” with your peers to bring up the trust level and avoid conflict. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean giving the programmer morning hugs or Valentine’s cards, but rather “deposits” of courtesy, kindness, honesty and keeping commitments. This creates a “reserve,” says best-selling author Stephen Covey, that promotes “easy, instant and effective communication.”
If you have a habit of being discourteous, showing disrespect, cutting people off, overreacting, ignoring others or betraying trust, Covey says the emotional bank account will overdraw and trust will run very low. At this point, he explains, “I’m walking on mine fields. I have to be very careful of everything I say. I measure every word. It’s tension city… protecting my backside, politicking.”
Building trust and rapport creates room to challenge yourself and others, to help produce good answers, fast. When you allow everyone to openly debate and disagree on important ideas, you’re more likely to establish sound solutions and deter backstabbing and dissatisfaction. If someone feels that a wireframe is flawed or that Web copy misses the mark on a certain page, they should state their case in a specific, constructive and civil manner. You’ll help your team uncover and resolve issues and become stronger overall.
Whenever possible, involve team players in the decision-making process, particularly when their roles are affected. If you have to make decisions that don’t jive with their points of view, take time to explain your rationale.
When you have to criticize someone, balance it with praise. Share your concerns, noting the individual’s successes or strengths as well as the areas that need attention. Be direct and honest, and do it privately.
In the event that you screw up, simply acknowledge it, say sorry and move on. Chances are the others will, too.
Keep Meetings Productive
When an email just won’t do, a well-planned and executed online or face-to-face meeting can yield exceptional results. Whether the meeting includes the client, the following rules (courtesy of Canadian business advisor and author Mark Wardell) invariably apply:
- Begin with the end in mind. Your meeting’s purpose will determine the meeting’s focus, agenda and participants.
- Distribute the agenda and any relevant information in advance of a meeting to foster more in-depth discussion and swifter decisions.
- Start and finish on time. Don’t wait for late-comers. And if you absolutely must go into OT, at least acknowledge it, so that you can wrap it up more quickly.
- Conclude the meeting with a brief recap of key points, decisions and assignments, and ask participants, “Did we achieve our purpose?” This fosters commitment to what was discussed.
- If another meeting is required, quickly outline the topics for it. Planning ahead while the information is fresh makes preparing the agenda easier. You can even take the opportunity to schedule the meeting.
Remember, meetings usually require lively discussion, with diverse perspectives, to be productive and for participants to reach consensus. So, to motivate people to contribute, treat everyone’s ideas and concerns equally, regardless of position or status.
When your project reaches a milestone or concludes successfully, you don’t have to throw rose petals at your teammates, but do recognize their efforts and achievements. Kudos, thank you’s and high fives take little effort and cost nothing, but they can make a world of difference to someone’s day.
Research shows that caring, supportive words increase chemicals such as serotonin in the brain, which calms and soothes people and generates a feeling of contentment. Just keep it real. The more genuinely positive the message, the more neurochemicals are released, creating that tranquility. A forced “Awesome!” or “You’re the best!” doesn’t have the same effect.
Rest assured, when you make people feel special, you get in their good books and, if you’re a freelancer, remain top of mind for any future projects.
Start Making Your World a Better Place Today
With every project and opportunity, do what you can to encourage a team-oriented atmosphere, so that you can achieve more as a cohesive unit, capitalizing on each player’s skills, experience and strengths.
And always lead by example. In the words of Stephen Covey (in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), “Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
You’ll attract a higher caliber of colleagues, clients and projects, and you’ll make your world a better, happier, more rewarding place.