A product leader’s strategy and vision are naturally ingrained in the development process. However, it boils down to a team’s talent and execution, which can be complicated by our increasingly remote-working world. How do product leaders maintain culture when building a hybrid team? The Infatuation and Zagat CPO Janko Bazhdavela shares the best practices for setting up a great team to make strategy come to life.

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On Building Internal and External Teams

Janko shared his insights into building teams and tapping into a hybrid model that will save your budget, no matter the size. He also discusses the balance between an internal and external team.

“I found that execution is critical for the success of any company product. In terms of setting up teams and talent, I think that, quite honestly, this may be more apparent now with the shortage of the right talent, but talent will always be the most difficult thing, the most challenging, the most important thing to build successful products. At the same time, luckily the talent is available across the world and the skills for most of the roles, if not all, are fairly transferable.

“If before that was an option, I think that these days it should be given that your team will always be distributed, your team will always be global. You should look into trying to understand the balance of the distribution is between the local workforce, the global workforce, the internal employees versus external partners. 

“Speaking about general digital products, certainly certain products require either a level of security or physical presence and so forth, or deep understanding of the market that you live in. However, for the majority of the roles and majority of the products, at least in my experience, no matter the budget, even if you have all the money in the world, you will get the best value for the investments if you build some sort of hybrid between internal and external teammates in a distributed team.”

On How To Maintain Culture With Hybrid Teams

Having hybrid teams can shift the culture in a business, and sometimes it is hard to maintain a cohesive product culture. Janko points out ways to create and keep as cohesive a team as possible.

“It’s quite difficult. The culture of the team is also quite influenced by the culture in the place that you’re living. There are different practices and the way you conduct business, the way you talk to your colleagues, topics that are relevant versus not based on geography, and even the seasons. Right. I think that it’s quite challenging. 

“I think that in my earlier experience about over 10 years ago, I’ve had efforts in one circumstance to try to align the culture. We had two branches … in Eastern Europe, to try to make the culture and the practices as similar as possible between those not understanding enough the subtleties of the culture of the country itself, which was a clear mistake, even while in retrospect that looks even easier than now. I think that emphasizing the practices or the tenants of your culture that can be transferable, anything from a culture of autonomy, the decision-making, the contribution and expectations of people that make the team, their inclusion in the entire process of the product development, especially ensuring that that’s done based on the skill set rather than internal/external or coming up with themes, which is what we do at The Infatuation based on the needs of the skill set, rather than geography. All of that contributes to a more cohesive culture.

“The tendency of the path of least resistance is, imagine you have 10 people somewhere abroad, you have 10 people here, you have two projects equally large, you might be tempted to split them based on geography. At least in my experience, that can be an advantage at some point, but generally, that’s a mistake. That’s something that we actually put a lot of attention on. We always make up the teams based on the talent that we need, the experience. Even in a team of like seven people, you might find people that are internal employees, external partners are people that are here, people that might be in Mexico, might be in Belarus, and so forth. 

“One thing to mention, and this is where we are trying to really make the important point, is in these hybrid models, it’s very important to integrate the external team members into the entire process as much as possible. Even when we interview with people, we tell them they’re practically our teammates, the only difference is they have different HR or maybe they get paid by someone else. I think it’s quite important that even the external team members are fully integrated within all the processes, with all the rights and expectations and their involvement in the process. 

“I think that itself, though still challenging, helps manage and maintain the culture, which will obviously, as we know, evolve the more people from different backgrounds from different places you are involved.”

On How To Align Teams For Their Best Work

Janko shares with us some very useful tips to stay aligned as a team, especially with hybrid teams becoming the norm. This might include us doing something we dread (documentation!) in order to keep things running smoothly.

“It’s alignment on high-level business rules on the company, understanding well the mission of the company, which for us, by the way, is to bring the most honest and trustworthy opinions on where to eat around the world. Everyone should know that, everyone should be aligned on that. I think that having the team aligned on the goals and always reminding ourselves that what we do and how that relates to those goals is quite important. 

“Easier said than done. I feel that often those goals, for example, will rightfully translate into certain requirements. Maybe that goal translates into a certain feature that can enable the goal. The tendency is that now we expect what we need to do; therefore achieving the goal is to do what we expect from the goal. Often that’s not the case. I think that one of the downsides, even on the agile processes, we don’t sufficiently reflect back on the progress that we’re making, and how much and how well we track the goals that we set up. That loop of challenging assumptions, product progress, as well as what it takes to make the progress as we go in as we learn information, it’s quite important to align back to the higher-level goals, and therefore achieve alignment. 

“Another thing that kind of want to point out, which is might sound obvious, it’s incredibly, incredibly important, and especially now that we’re all distributed or partly hybrid, the written communication and writing down something that is assumed is very critical, especially when we have distributed team, a hybrid team, and you’re in a very fast environment. As the team grows and scales, misunderstandings of what decisions have been made, and how directions are going or changing, especially when we’re moving quickly, can be quite painful. The thing people usually like the least — documentation — can often be your best friend. Even if you talk to people you agree on something and you just summarize and send them in Slack and say, ‘Just to summarize, we agree to take step one, step two, and optionally step three.’”

About the speaker
SC Moatti Products That Count, CEO & Founder Administrator

Products That Count is the original and most influential product acceleration platform in the world. Almost 300,000 product managers globally read, watch, attend and listen to our 3,000+ free blog posts, videos, webinars and podcasts. C/VP-level product executives such as Netflix Product VP, Coinbase CPO, and Box CPO share best practices and raise their profile at our curated product salons, podcast show and mastermind circles. Leading brands such as Autodesk and Capital One join as corporate members to turn their product teams into a competitive advantage. Hyper-growth companies like Amplitude have generated 10X ROI from marketing partnerships. Learn more at productsthatcount.com

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