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Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Why We Thrive on Collaboration

From knocking out high-velocity sprints to successfully delivering key features, everyone on the Endpoint Health team here at Duo really feels like they’ve hit their stride. Handling customer issues quickly and efficiently, and having in-depth, successful technical conversations have become normal, expected occurrences within the team, which provides us with a great sense of accomplishment. Looking at these things together, we asked ourselves why. What have we been doing well that produced successive sprints and left us feeling accomplished and proud of our team’s work?

The answer wasn’t just one thing, but rather a combination of factors among our team that have contributed to our success. Even better, these factors aren’t unique to our team; they’re as relevant for engineers as they are for a creative team, customer support, and everyone in between.

There's no single, easy answer, but we think we've found some of the reasons we love working together. Ensuring effective communication, fostering a sense of ownership over your product, and maintaining a general sense of positivity all work together to create a successful, cohesive team.

Communication is Key

Communication now, more than ever, is vital to our daily operations as a team. Word choices can make all the difference in fostering team unity. Using “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “me” can make successes feel bigger and failures feel smaller. For example, instead of saying “When I worked on the feature,” you could instead say, “When we worked on the feature.” This language switch helps to solidify a unified front as a team, where everyone feels recognized for their contributions to the product overall.

An easy way to make this kind of communication more natural to nurture the personal connections between everyone on the team. The microinteractions throughout a normal day in the office have disappeared, and video calls have seemingly been forced into all-business mode. This change to remote work removes a lot of the “chit chat” that naturally happens in a workspace, so it's important to encourage any level of non-work-related conversations that happen during video chats. For example, we’ve added a weekly “icebreaker” to our first standup of the week — it helps us get to know each other better and find common interests. 

When people feel a personal connection with their teammates, they’re more likely to communicate when they need help, or are more likely to support other members on the team both when they need help and when they need positive reinforcement. Something that Duo uses to further influence better communication between team members is assessing how each person likes to be communicated with, and giving a central location for you to double check that you’re communicating with someone as effectively as you can.

Some people react positively to long, detailed conversations, while others prefer getting straight to the point. Some people prefer discussing issues over whatever chat system you use, while others prefer face-to-face conversation. It's critical to keep those things in mind when interacting with one another to ensure effective, positive discourse among your team.

Everyone Should Feel Ownership of the Team’s Product

Every team has a product. Whether it’s a marketing campaign, a big sale, or a piece of software, every team owns something. In most cases, a single individual is not responsible for that entire product, as there have been designs discussed, opinions solicited, products reviewed, and many other steps taken before that product is released.

A great way to foster a team-centric success/failure mindset is to set goals to achieve as a team, and then break down the goals into pieces that each team member o can own. An important thing to note here is that the goals are not “handed down” to the team — they’re set by the team and worked on as a team. Feeling ownership over the products you create makes it natural to jump at the chance to help when improvements are needed or a bug needs immediate attention.

Developing a sense of ownership comes from every member of the team. Encourage each other to own pieces of a project, set goals that everyone can work toward, and if you’re an expert in an area, try not to dominate the conversation — let others contribute!

If everyone on the team feels that same sense of ownership, issues no longer slip through the cracks. Instead of one or two people consistently supporting issues, everyone focuses together because everyone is driven by the same overarching goal. Everyone feels driven to ensure that a project or a task is completed, both in the code sense and in the sense of ensuring it’s delivered to the end user.

Succeeding and Failing as a Team

Along with any kind of product comes success and failure. It’s important to realize that both of those outcomes are built upon the contributions that preceded them. Our team celebrates successes by taking the time to recognize achievements as often as possible. This could be as simple as telling someone their code review is awesome, or by sending out a wider shout-out communication to highlight when someone on the team has done an excellent job. 

We also struggle through challenges together, like when bugs in production have caused us to drop what we’re doing and rally to find the solution as a group. In those situations, instead of being mired in a battle of blame and shame, we focus on finding the solution, and acknowledge the fact that we both succeed and fail as a team. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s important to ensure that everyone on the team knows they’ll be supported when or if they make an error.

Additionally, it’s important to realize that when something goes wrong, it’s rarely a single team member’s fault. Between code reviews and other checks and balances to ensure the work and responsibility are evenly distributed across team members, it's rare to find instances where issues can truly boil down to one person. Supporting each other in those times of failure can lead to a better, more positive team dynamic.

A Positive Atmosphere

A large portion of our team’s success comes from a general sense of positivity, but this doesn’t always mean that our day-to-day operations always bring happy feelings. From unexpected outcomes of a research task to customer calls that leave you feeling defeated, everyone on the team has an opportunity to encourage each other and, in turn, strengthen the team.

Positivity is much easier to talk about than to actually feel. Even describing positivity within a team seems so simple to talk about, yet so difficult to build. We each see the world and interact with it differently. This means one team member may come out of a customer call feeling defeated after seeing an unhappy customer, but another sees so much exciting potential. Both of them play a key role in encouraging the team — the former to make a better product to please customers, and the latter to energize.

In addition to helping in times of strife, positivity also helps to ensure all team members feel valued. You can show it by recognizing a team member’s hard work, or by recognizing the strengths of the team in general. One way we work to create a positive atmosphere is by talking about our “happys and sads” in our sprint retrospectives, which cover both work-related and personal events. The “sads” are conversation topics we can address as a team and do our best to prevent in the future. The “happys” become things we can celebrate together.

Final Thoughts

If we had to summarize in one word what makes our team effective, it’d be trust. We acknowledge that trust is not something that comes quick or easily. It has to be built and maintained over time. Open communication, a shared sense of ownership, working as a team, and a positive environment all drive trust forward and, in turn, reinforces each of those attributes. Fostering an environment where each piece is encouraged can drive any team forward.

That said, our team doesn’t have everything figured out. The team consists of individuals who have unique personalities, handle stress differently, and tackle problems in various ways. We’re growing and changing every day, so every time we sit at our desks in the morning, the team looks different. We’ve realized recently that we’ve been working well together, but we can always move forward and learn together as we continue to grow as a team.


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