How to collaborate effectively with other teams
There is no Growth without collaboration.
But teams don’t work well together without intentionally defining how.
Context: Disciplines like SEO have always relied on support from other organizations because the output of SEO is recommendations. Now that meta signals like brand or user experience are growing in impact compared to other signals, it’s even more important.
The recent Google leak confirming clicks are used for ranking highlights the importance of a seamless user experience to succeed in SEO.
There is no universal definition of where Growth or SEO starts and ends, which causes responsibilities to blend into each other.
To succeed at a behemoth like Shopify, we had to juggle joint projects with teams like Brand / design, Content, Engineering, PR, Product, Analytics.
The challenge is not just to get each individual collaboration right but to tie them all together into a coherent plan.
In this post, I’m sharing what I learned at previous companies and how I think about collaboration in my advisor work with clients today.
Effective collaboration stands on 3 pillars
Collaboration is KEY to win, especially the larger a company is because complexity scales with company size.
To succeed, you need a stable scaffold. In my work at Atlassian, G2 and Shopify, I learned that collaborating teams need to align on 3 key pillars:
Ways of working
Pillar 1: Project Parameters
Teams collaborate on projects and prioritize them based on whether they help them achieve their goal or not.
Project parameters are critical information that helps teams prioritize projects. If a project fails at this pillar, the others won’t matter.
Teams need to define 4 critical project parameters:
Priorities: Is the project a priority? Should we do this now?
Teams are chronically swamped and need to prioritize anything landing on their plate. Your number one priorities are not automatically other teams’ number one priorities - this is where misalignment starts! This is also where early communication and alignment between leadership is critical.
Good SEOs flag dependencies early with their managers and leverage them to create high-level team alignment.
The easiest way to prioritize is by impact on the north star metric. It’s very easy to persuade a team to work with you if you have a plan for meaningful impact on a company’s growth.
Objectives: Both teams must align on what success looks like (the goal) and how to measure it (KPIs). This should be a number or at least a crystal clear description of a future version (for example, in the case of a site redesign).
Timings: When the project starts and ends.
Define milestones along the way. Example: what work gets done in which sprint or when you can expect a draft / MVP.
Resources: Who works on the project, and what key resources are needed to succeed.
Figure out key resources before you pitch the project to another team. There’s nothing worse than starting work and then realizing you’re missing a key person who’s now entrenched in another project.
❗️A word about alignment: a painful lesson I learned in my career is that alignment doesn’t go in a single direction but multiple. “360-degree alignment” means aligning horizontally (partners) and vertically (leaders and teams). Your default assumption, especially as a leader, should be that there is no alignment to ensure everyone is on board by keeping to pound the drum around project parameters.
Pillar 2: Ways of working
Once the project parameters are clear, you want to outline how the teams work together. Often forgotten, outlining ways of working removes assumptions about how two teams operate and allows leaders to step back.
It’s critical to define two ways of working:
Ownership: specify which team and team member is responsible for what. Everyone must know their roles - don’t leave it up to teams to organize themselves. Two frameworks can help you define roles:
RACI - decides who’s Responsible, Accountable, Consulting, and Informed on and outside the team. We used this to clarify roles on the SEO Growth team in my engagement with Nextdoor, for example.
DARE - a McKinsey framework that decides who the Deciders, Advisors, Recommenders and Executive Stakeholders are.
Conflict Resolution: Set up a pre-defined process for resolving disputes or misunderstandings.
A great model to resolve conflicts one-on-one is the Clearing Model from Conscious Leadership.
A framework to involve stakeholders is Clean Escalations, which originally stems from LinkedIn
📝 On holding people accountable: earlier in my career, I thought holding people accountable meant constantly checking in and “staying on top of them”. Today, I know that’s a recipe for burnout. Instead, you want to form clear agreements (a concept from Conscious Leadership) that specify who does what by when.
Pillar 3: Communication
Without communication, there is no collaboration. And yet, project parameters and ways of working are important to define first to get to the necessary level of clarity that can facilitate communication.
3 ways of communicating are important:
Updates: everyone on the collaborating teams and around them (eg leadership) need regular updates about progress, plans and problems (“the 3 Ps”).
As a leader, be precise about how often you expect updates.
As an individual contributor (IC), ask leadership how they want to be updated.
Feedback Loop: Create a system for both teams to give and receive feedback, not just at the end but throughout the project.
Channels: define where teams and leadership receive updates.
You can use meetings or asynchronous communication channels like Slack or email to save everyone time. If you pick meetings, send a pre-read 24h ahead.
Documentation: Maintain records of actions, decisions, problems, questions, and strategies for future reference and alignment.
Keep meeting notes and action items (publicly visible).
The mortar of collaboration: trust
At Shopify, we used the concept of a trust battery: you can charge trust by keeping or word and following through on commitments or lose trust by doing the opposite. The idea is not perfect math, but to embrace that trust is built over time, sometimes with small actions.
Trust is the mortar of collaboration. When teams trust each other, they’re much more likely to assume positive intent, find creative solutions to problems and keep a positive vibe.
Over to you:
Where in the 3 steps of project parameters > ways of working > communication can you improve?
Where have past collaborations failed?
What style of collaboration does your company culture promote?
Feel free to use the framework above as a playbook for your next project.