We are excited to welcome guest writer Carlos González de Villaumbrosia to the ProductPlan blog. Carlos González de Villaumbrosia is the Founder of Product School, originally based in San Francisco. Product School was founded in 2014 and now maintains 20 campuses around the world where they offer certifications in Product Management. They organize events discussing innovations in the software and technology space.
It can be easy, especially within large businesses, to take someone’s skills for granted. From the outside, a Product Manager (PM) is a resolute individual responsible for completing a product’s development. This involves (among other things) careful data collection, design awareness, and business knowledge. But today we’re going to talk about one of the most important traits a product manager needs. Product management leadership requires an ability to support their teams to victory! This comes from a combination of collective management and individual relationships; every PM must be equally good at both.
You might be able to electrify audiences at the launch of your latest feature, but then find yourself struggling to strengthen relationships within your teams. This is a problem because stakeholder management work is very much bottom-up: it doesn’t come from your claim to authority but from a slow build-up of respect with each team and team members across the company.
One very good moment to establish or improve professional relationships with specific team members is on product team one-on-ones.
What are the 4 Phases of a Successful Product Team One-on-One?
Phase 1: Look for the signs that your team communication isn’t working.
- Silence in the room: Did you just propose a pretty radical change of direction and nobody said a word? That’s a sign your team needs better communication. A healthy team should at least wonder why you are doing it.
- Lack of dissent: If you’re being knowingly tough on a particular project and nobody questions you, then you cannot learn or collaborate.
- Unexpected pitfalls: Milestones are not reached, there are undetected bugs, and there’s an impossible deadline. A normal office should feel free to communicate these pitfalls in advance.
- Putting out fires: Rather than acting, you spend a lot of your time reacting. Again, this is a sign of poor team planning.
- Conflicting communication: You speak to your team, and everything’s good and normal. You speak with other teams or even superiors, and everything’s falling into pieces. This sort of mismatch calls for one-on-ones.
- Open challenges: It’s one thing is to get constructive feedback. It’s something different to be contradicted in front of everyone. That’s a sign that something has gone wrong in your communication.
- Individual isolation: If one member of the team seems removed from collective activities, operations cannot really function.
Every situation will be different. It’s not the same to work at a small startup compared to a big enterprise. It’s not the same to seek a discussion with a colleague you have known for a long time compared to a new hire. And it’s definitely not the same to hold a product team one-on-one during a normal check-in compared to a huge failure. Keep these different parameters in mind and apply some common sense.
To have the most successful product team one-on-one in all of these contexts, we recommend the following.
Phase 2: Prepare for your product team one-on-one.
- Gather information and data that back-up your claims.
- Situation, action, result. What’s the situation that you wish to correct? What‘s the action that this person can do to help you out? What’s the intended goal?
- Be tactful. A private meeting with your Product Manager might sound intimidating. According to a study performed by Google, one aspect of their most successful teams is psychological safety. “The safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles.”
- Open the communication stream both ways. Make it clear to your team that they can also use this time to voice their own concerns and ask their own questions. This is as much for them as it is for you.
Phase 3: Run effective product team One-On-Ones.
- State the topic from the start.
- Have an action point at the end of the meeting.
- Begin with a positive discussion. Then, bring up “negatives” in a constructive way.
- Listen, don’t anticipate. Clear your mind of what you’re expecting to hear, and really hear them.
Phase 4: Close the loop after your One-On-One.
- Create a shared document that you both have access to and can edit.
- Write down the key takeaways and actionable steps from the product team one-on-one immediately and share them with your colleague to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Be patient. Many times, Product Managers lack the authority to act straight away. On the other hand, if this is something that you expect to become routine; share!
- Put your insights together and find a common narrative that you can explain to the team.
- Transform this qualitative information into actionable metrics. Set relevant targets from the meeting. Are you trying to decide on the need for future hires? Did a team member request further training to be funded by the company?
How to Know Your One-on-Ones are Working:
Teamwork and organizational trust are critical to operations, but as they are abstract concepts they can be difficult to measure. Paul J. Zak, the author of Trust Factor, came up with some simple metrics you can use to measure communication:
- Energy: How much communication is happening. Are your Slack channels silent? Is the lunchroom full of people staring at their phones?
- Engagement: What reaction do you get when you say something to your teams? If your messages are met with apathy and disinterest you may have a problem.
- Exploration: Does your team talk to anyone outside of the project, in the company, or in the industry?
Now go forth and run your own one-on-ones with your product team. Read, 12 Traits of High Performing Product Teams, to learn more.
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