Improving Developer Experience, Level 2: Belonging, Collaboration, and Communication


As part of the ongoing series about improving Developer Experience (DevEx), the last article highlighted the significance of psychological safety, stability, and work-life balance.

Today, let’s embark on a journey further up the Maslow Pyramid of DevEx, addressing three pivotal elements: Belonging, Collaboration, and Communication.

Belonging: The Foundation of Team Cohesion

The human psyche is intricately wired for connection. A sense of belonging can increase creativity and productivity and foster long-term commitment. It’s essential to establish this sense of unity within teams and organizations.

  • Fostering Inclusivity: Establishing an inclusive environment where everyone, regardless of their background, feels valued, respected, and listened to is essential. A pivotal initial move is to greet differences with curiosity rather than dismissal. Recognizing our unconscious biases and striving for understanding grants individuals the freedom to express and feel esteemed. As a leader, foster a space where everyone feels at ease voicing their opinions. Actively engage those who are typically reserved, encouraging them to participate in discussions even if they’re not always vocal on their own.
  • Celebrating Achievements: Even minor milestones matter. Recognizing team members for their contributions can substantially enhance their sense of belonging.
  • Prioritizing Networking: Nurturing close relationships throughout the company establishes a supportive network for individuals. People are notably more inclined to confront and resolve challenges when they have a trusted circle to turn to. It’s essential to encourage individuals to connect on a personal basis. Doing so cultivates trust, promotes a sense of safety, and fosters a feeling of belonging.
  • Spending time together: Teams represent more than just collections of individuals; they are cohesive units that collaborate intimately. While it’s beneficial for teams to work synchronously, it’s equally valuable for them to bond outside of traditional work settings. Such bonding can occur during offsites, casual coffee chats, or virtual games. Yet, from my perspective, the most impactful team-building exercise are genuine collaboration sessions sprinkled with personal interactions.

Collaboration: The Key to Optimal Performance

The essence of high-performing teams lies in their ability to collaborate seamlessly.

  • Program Together: Pair programming, ensemble sessions, or team programming aren’t just coding practices. They serve as a conduit for knowledge transfer, team bonding, and producing top-notch outcomes.
  • Utilize Optimal Tools: As the nature of work becomes increasingly distributed, it’s vital to invest in collaboration platforms such as Slack, Zoom, Miro, and similar tools to facilitate smooth teamwork. This investment is not just essential for fully remote teams but also paramount for hybrid teams and those adopting a home-office policy. Even if only one team member operates remotely, optimizing for that environment is crucial to ensure an exceptional developer experience and optimal performance. Employing the right tools plays a significant role in enhancing the quality of collaborative sessions and their overall success.
  • Pick the Right Format: Effective collaboration hinges on every participant’s active engagement. In certain groups, power dynamics, insecurities, or other factors might hinder seamless collaboration and compromise the experience for participants. To optimize these sessions, consider varying the format, employing an external facilitator, or leveraging a proven Liberating Structure to ensure productive and enjoyable interactions.
  • Reinvent Code Reviews: Resort to asynchronous code reviews only when other collaborative methods aren’t feasible. Keep in mind that they can lead to delayed feedback and the risk of unnecessary work. Authentic collaboration consistently produces superior outcomes and a more enriching developer experience. If you must conduct asynchronous code reviews, minimize delays and prioritize mutual learning over merely pointing out errors.
  • Cross-Team Collaboration: Collaboration extends beyond the boundaries of a single team. When success hinges on interfacing with other departments or groups, it’s more effective to actively engage and forge stronger collaborative ties rather than merely passing on semi-completed tasks and waiting for their conclusion. Persistent cross-team or cross-department dependencies may signal misalignment in team structures and value streams. Addressing such misalignments by changing team responsibilities or structures can enhance Developer Experience (DevEx) and the broader organizational performance. Don’t hesitate to connect if this resonates with your needs.

Communication: The Lifeline of any Organization

Effective collaboration is crucial to high-performing teams and essential to outstanding developer experience.

  • Default-to-Open: The potential contributors or beneficiaries of a conversation or information might surprise you. While reaching out directly can seem efficient, posing questions in a public channel allows for broader participation and learning opportunities. I delve deeper into this concept here.
  • Make it effortless: Effortless communication across an organization is essential. Whether an engineer wishes to speak with someone in sales or marketing, or vice versa, the process should be straightforward. Lengthy searches for the right contact and determining the best way to approach them shouldn’t be necessary. Ideally, anyone in the organization, including the CEO, should be as accessible as a Slack message away, ready to join a quick huddle to streamline the conversation. When reaching out becomes cumbersome, individuals might bypass the process, resorting to making assumptions instead of seeking clarity.
  • Over-communicate: Merely conveying a message once doesn’t guarantee its reception or comprehension. People can overlook an announcement or initially dismiss its significance. It’s wise to reiterate crucial messages through multiple channels, such as all-hands meetings, videos, and chat messages, to ensure broad understanding and retention.
  • Promote Bidirectional Dialogue: In sharing vision, strategy, or values, many leaders erroneously view these as one-way broadcasts. Such an approach doesn’t necessarily make the message resonate. Instead, actively engage your audience, pose questions, and facilitate reflection on the topic. This not only deepens their comprehension but also aligns it with your intent. Additionally, fostering open dialogue and encouraging queries can lead to enhanced outcomes and stronger buy-in.
  • Validation Through Repetition: When someone shares information with you, paraphrase it in your own words. This allows the speaker to gauge your understanding and can further cement your grasp of the topic. Adopting this approach can proactively curb misunderstandings from the outset.
  • Embrace Documentation: Adopt a documentation mindset. From code to design decisions and meeting minutes, thorough documentation ensures alignment among team members. Recognize the varying lifespans of different documents, and if they’re meant to be long-standing, ensure they remain updated and relevant.

I’d love to hear from you! — How are you integrating these principles within your teams? What challenges are you facing, and what strategies have worked for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Next week we’ll dive deep into the elements that drive focus, clarity, and flow within engineering teams. Stay tuned!


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