Why a Shared Language is Paramount for Aligning Cross-Functional Teams

Sales, product, and engineering teams work great individually, but put them together and things fall through the cracks. Despite all the meetings, tension only seems to grow, causing teams to get farther and farther away from the customer. Sound familiar?

“We’re a collection of engineers. We don’t really understand what we are meant to be doing when it comes to why our customers are buying. Or why they’re not buying.”

We hear this ALL the time. A guy, the Head of Engineering of a software firm, came up to talk with me recently. He told me that his engineers had tried different approaches to get to why customers buy, but felt they were misusing or ‘butchering’ the tools available to them.

We chatted some more, and I quickly saw that he was way too close to the problem and his product. It reminded me of when I started out interviewing customers and why they bought a particular product. Very quickly, I realized people were lying to me, telling me what they thought I wanted to hear.

The thing is, if you’re too close to your product you’re too close to bias.

One of the ways to help navigate out of this and get closer to the customer is by rallying a cross-functional team.

But a cross-functional team comes with its own challenges. You need everybody to be on the same page, to be aligned.

Fail to align right and you’ll likely get the same results and be left guessing why customers buy your product.

So how do you create alignment in your cross-functional team?

We find that the thing most cross-functional teams struggle with isn’t a lack of shared goals, proper governance, or agreeing metrics.

Even with those things, teams still get off track and miss their targets.

For us, the key is in your teams sharing a unified view of your customers – with their context, needs, and jobs that need doing.

Teams that don’t share a common view usually find themselves misaligned somewhere down the path. The project starts off well, then motivation drops, communication goes out the window, and everyone starts doing their own thing.

Having no consensus over the important things is a big red flag – and the surest way to misunderstand your customers’ expectations and get farther and farther away from them.

Achieving a shared view of your customer starts with having a shared language.

Why is it so important for cross-functional teams to have a shared language?

When each team speaks its own language and has its own understanding, things can spiral out of control quickly. It hinders progress and creates tension among your teams, which is the last thing you need.

This then results in conflicting messaging and in shipping features customers just won’t use – if they reach them at all.

On the other hand, when teams get this piece right from the start, as Southern New Hampshire University did when we worked together, they’re up for some truly transformative and profitable results.

How Jobs to be Done helps teams find and establish a shared language

Jobs to be Done (JTBD) research is so valuable. That’s because it allows customers to unpack the meaning behind words while giving your teams a bird’s-eye view of it all.

In JTBD interviews, we let people describe in their own words their situation, struggles, and desires. This leaves no room for guessing and helps teams establish and adopt a common language – that of the customer.

It has more uses than just for product. It gives sales and marketing teams access to the customer voice that will be used in comms, messaging, and sales calls.

JTBD projects and research give concrete meaning to ambiguous words. For example, with traditional research or by passively observing user engagement, we might discover that the customer wants a given aspect of their experience to be made “easier”.

But without additional explanation, a developer might have a very technical definition of “easy” compared to someone from customer success or marketing who might have a more touchy-feely read of the word.

This means the final product can end up looking totally different, based on which department shouts louder.

In reality, it’s the customer’s voice that should be the loudest in the room.

On top of this, “easy” will mean different things in the different customer jobs and contexts, which is why it is important to group customers by jobs first.

Once you’ve done that, you know that for customers in job A, “easy” means your product intuitively guides them through the onboarding steps.

And for customers in job B, easy means having someone on a call hold their hand through a process.

Or in job C, easy is when someone else doing it for them, or an automated integration.

Everyone on your cross-functional team then instantly knows what a customer in a particular group (or segment) means when they talk about easy. By listening to the in-depth JTBD interviews together, your team develops a shared vocabulary that allows them to quickly get on the same page.

Grouping customers by jobs to be done is like a cheat code for cross-functional teams

When used as a segmentation tool, JTBD looks at the real customer intent instead of letting your team guess why customers act in a certain way. Uncovering how people in each job talk about their struggles gives the team a shared vocabulary – a shorthand when talking about customers in a particular context.

Think of it like a cheat code for your team.

You say one word and everyone instantly knows what happens next, or what key positions to take. It allows you to process information a lot quicker and take action more intuitively.

It’s a powerful way for cross-functional teams to learn the context and desired outcomes of each customer group. The idea is to build better products quicker, connect with customers, and market and sell more effectively.

If you’re looking to develop a consistent approach to decision-making, you might want to use Jobs to be Done.

A step-by-step guide to cross-functional alignment

Do your innovation teams keep butting heads? Feel like everyone is speaking a different language?

We can help you cut through the noise by creating a common vision, messaging, and strategies that stick with our cross-functional alignment services.

We’ve also developed a 10-week coaching program that shows you exactly how to transform hunches and guesses into the confidence to execute – and guide your team through the process.

You’ll learn how to ask quality questions and conduct JTBD interviews to get great customer insights your team can embrace. And you’ll get lifetime access to our entire library of resources.