Software development is currently one of the fastest-growing industries today. Advancements in technology have led to the widespread adoption of Cloud computing for a range of business and consumer applications. To support the demand for fast, responsive Cloud applications, organizations need to leverage team performance to deliver quality products at high speed. Many software businesses are finding that the key to superior teamwork is communication.
Software teams are responsible for the magic behind the everyday applications that have come to characterize modern life. While putting together a stellar software development team comes with its own challenges, the true challenge can often be helping them to realize their full potential.
Why is teamwork important for software engineers?
It’s a fact that teamwork is one of the surest ways of overcoming monumental tasks. In the software development lifecycle, software engineers work both as individuals and as cooperators. They collaborate to solve problems that arise and ensure the creation of working software products.
To achieve results at scale, businesses that rely on software products to generate value need to focus on improving their teamwork and communication throughout the development process.
Why is communication important for teamwork?
Strong teamwork is built on open and clear communication. Software development is a complex endeavor, and when scaled up, it only becomes harder to manage. Better communication supports smoother development and delivery from start to finish.
The major benefits of improving software team operations with communication include:
- Creating support networks to distribute workloads evenly
- Encouraging knowledge exchange and learning
- Improving productivity and efficiency
- Blending strengths and skills
5 Common Barriers to Effective Communication
Poor communication is often at the root of issues plaguing development teams and hampering their productivity. Communication challenges can stem from a combination of work culture and interpersonal difficulties. 5 common barriers to effective communication include:
1. Ineffective leadership
Teams need effective leaders to guide work on projects, support team needs, and encourage collaboration in an ongoing, consistent way. The best leaders excel at communicating with their teams and facilitating open and communicative environments. They are decisive, clear, and able to define team objectives, targets, and strategies for development.
Poor leadership can be indecisive, inconsistent, and vague in terms of directives and feedback. This can leave teams feeling undirected, unfocused, and confused. When information from leadership is unclear, it tends to have a cascading effect making communication even harder between team members.
2. Siloed departments
Where there are hard separations between departments, there’s potential for teams to become too siloed. This reduces communication and genuine interaction between team members. This can be especially problematic when cross-functional collaboration is necessary.
At its worst, this can create competition or resentment between teams that are meant to be working together. For example, the traditional separations between Development, IT Operations, and QA teams have often created friction between departments. This friction can lead to delays, miscommunication, and reticence to collaborate fully.
3. Team size
There is an optimal team size to maximize productivity. Scrum and Agile methodologies typically suggest team sizes range from 3 to a maximum of 9. These days, the most effective teams tend to be 4 or 5 strong.
Under-sized teams can easily lack the capacity for interpersonal interactions and have fewer opportunities for organic creativity and collaboration in problem-solving. At the same time, more doesn’t always mean better.
Bloated teams have more difficulty creating opportunities for all members to be heard. This can actually make communication and collaboration harder than it needs to be. With larger teams, there are more channels of communication to manage and be aware of. This can make knowledge sharing and information distribution more complex. Better-balanced teams are easier to manage and create a more level playing field for team members to share their thoughts and ideas.
4. Personal Issues
Some challenges that teams face may come from interpersonal difficulties. These include:
- Lack of trust
- Inequality in decision-making
- Poor conflict resolution
- Differences in communication styles
Each of these can undermine efforts to create better team cultures. This is especially true when team members find it difficult to work together because of perceived personality issues. This can throw off team harmony and create obstacles to collaboration.
5. Distributed teams with different hours and languages
In modern development, it’s common for teams to operate remotely. Developers can now contribute asynchronously from around the globe. While recruiting software talent from around the world is certainly a great way to access a more diverse developer base, it does come with its share of challenges.
A common difficulty distributed teams face is coordinating communication across different time zones. This can create delays in communication when waiting for a response on mission critical matters can take hours. Another issue that sometimes crops up is language differences. While ensuring a common working language can help, native and non-native speakers can often find communication more difficult.
How do you improve teamwork through communication?
Better teamwork in software development starts with creating a culture that embraces communication and cooperation. Managers often mistake “more” for “better” and mandate more meetings or team discussions. However, this can be counterproductive.
Underlying any successful approach to building dynamic and productive teams is the need for more effective communication. This doesn’t just mean that team members talk to each other, but rather that management, teams, and all relevant stakeholders commit to using communication to create value.
The focus needs to be on the quality of communication rather than on the quantity. To that end, 5 easy ways to improve communication in software teams are:
- Focusing on making communications clear and concise
- Making time and space for open communication
- Encouraging Active Listening and Intentional Communication
- Using software tools to improve communication
- Resolving conflict quickly and amicably
8 tips for better teamwork through communication
Improving teamwork by tackling communication takes time and effort, but it is doable. As these are often human-based challenges, the first step is to address the human needs and psychological barriers that might be holding teams back. 8 ways to improve team collaboration are:
1. Aligning teams with the company’s mission
Departmental silos might be a problem in software development, but one way to overcome them is to ensure that all your teams share the same mission. When they’re all aligned toward the same objective, communication and collaboration improve.
Helping teams to put aside individual egos and interdepartmental politics to achieve a greater goal is a powerful way to improve inter-team cooperation.
2. Defining and communicating your team’s goals
At the team level, creating a coherent team goal works similarly. Identifying, defining, and communicating the team’s S.M.A.R.T. goals can guide how teams operate and focus their efforts. This is something that needs to be confirmed and reaffirmed daily.
Discussing team goals daily is one way to ensure that teams stay focused on their individual and collective goals. Daily stand-up meetings or reviews foster better communication and can help create an understanding that teams are working towards a shared goal.
3. Setting expectations for collaboration
It may seem obvious, but you need to let teams know that meaningful communication and collaboration isn’t just a suggestion; it’s an expectation. For many developers and software professionals, however, this may not come so naturally. You have to let them know that working together is the best way to achieve your shared goals. Again, communication is key.
This can be introduced early on in recruitment as part of the advertised roles for talent or during the onboarding process. For teams that have existing history, communicating the expectation of collaboration can still help, especially when relationships in the team aren’t necessarily the warmest.
4. Encouraging creativity
One of the major benefits of highly communicative and collaborative teamwork is its capacity to generate innovation. Encouraging creativity and supporting team solutions is a great way to show your teams that their ideas are valuable. When those contributions are valued, teams are more likely to communicate and share their ideas.
Brainstorming sessions can create opportunities for team members to sort through ideas, challenge each other in a safe and positive way, and create new solutions to shared problems. Empowering them to turn their ideas into practical solutions is a necessary part of fostering creativity. Few things can kill innovation like having good ideas squashed.
5. Creating visibility for individuals’ strengths
While your team members might be great at writing code, there are several different ways that they add value to the development process. Their strengths and the value of their contributions should be made visible to promote their development.
Teams should aim to be well-rounded. This is particularly true for smaller software development teams where individuals are responsible for creating complex features. Creating visibility for your team members sets an example and tells the rest of the team, “This person is valuable to the team.” It also improves individuals’ sense of effectiveness and responsibility, which can be positively affirming.
6. Championing knowledge exchange
Knowledge sharing and exchange is a practice requiring team interdependence, communication, trust, and no small measure of collaboration. Consequently, teams that share knowledge, insights, and technical experience tend to have closer working relationships and better overall effectiveness.
Another advantage of promoting knowledge exchange is it creates unique knowledge resources that can generate a competitive advantage for your organization. Key factors that influence knowledge sharing in teams include:
- degree of trust
- interpersonal relationships
- levels of expertise
- team size
- communication styles
7. Celebrating successful teamwork
Focusing on team success and celebrating team wins creates a greater sense of community and lets team members know their contributions are valuable. While strong teamwork, communication, and collaboration should be an expectation of your teams, they also need to be rewarded when they perform well.
This can be achieved by informal awards or sponsored recreational activities. The aim is to show your teams that their combined efforts are seen, acknowledged, and valued. This in turn creates a culture that values employees and cooperation. This is a great way to foster a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie.
8. Using the right technology for your team
It goes without saying that tech organizations with businesses should use technology in their tech-based teams. That said, it can be tough to identify the best tech solutions to improve teamwork and communication.
Solutions for enabling communication, managing workflows, and gaining insight into team performance and behavior can help reduce friction both inter-team and intra-team. Tools that can help include:
- Team messaging applications
- Productivity management tools
- Software Intelligence platforms
Support better teamwork through communication and culture
Getting better teamwork through communication takes a humanistic approach to team management. This is true even in tech-heavy contexts like software development. After all, people aren’t machines. Teams have personal and psychological needs as well. Creating workplace cultures that encourage collaboration and open communication can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort.
While focusing on teams is a great place to start improving performance in your software development, looking at how different teams work together is also important. One area where friction tends to crop up in software development is between Developer and QA teams. See how you can help create a better relationship between those teams here.