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August 29, 2019

Mind the Gap

By: Brooke Landrum

Increase communication between engineering and customer-facing teams

One of the hardest parts about working in a technology company is bridging the divide between product teams and revenue-generating teams. The individuals on these teams have different backgrounds, training, values, and communication styles. And just to be clear on the “who” I’m referring to, I’m lumping product management, engineering, and development on one side as compared to sales, marketing, and customer success on the other.

At Narrative Science, every new hire, on both sides of the office, completes the DiSC assessment. Most of our engineering team falls into the C (conscientiousness) category, bleeding into S (steadiness). Contrastingly, our customer-focused teams fall into the I (influence) style, leaning to D (dominance) in upper-level management and sales.

For those of you unfamiliar with DiSC styles, those are nearly complete opposites. This has huge implications for communication in particular. It can also be indicative of the values of the group.

Product: conscientious and steady

Our engineers value efficiency and creation. They love and are passionate about the things they create. Building something that pushes the bounds of what is possible drives them. They zone in on one problem at a time and focus and work until it is solved. Problem-solving is the ultimate high. Engineers value creativity in the same way as artists or graphic designers; it just manifests in code rather than watercolors. They want to build something that is useful, magical, and amazing.

Customer-facing: influential and dominant

Our customer-facing teams value value. Or said less redundantly, they thrive on the positive customer experience. They care about the impact our products have on the individual who uses them. They spend their days interacting with these heroes and determine how best to communicate the value, built by our engineers, to each of them. They work in emotion and personal connection.

So, how do you bridge the gap?

How do you get teams that have different priorities and communication styles to collaborate and create a healthy environment?

That is an exceptionally hard question, and I won’t pretend that we do it perfectly here at Narrative Science. We are, however, always trying new strategies, and we have a good system in place for bridging the gap.

Talk it out, y’all

Have you ever heard someone talk about something they are passionate about? That’ll change your life. You’ll understand them, and you’ll get pumped, too. Everyone has 20 minutes or wants to take a coffee break, so just ask.

Focus on the big picture, not big egos

We have meetings where everyone gets together and talks about their stuff so we can see how the puzzle pieces fit together. Nobody is more important than the other person. Getting the bigger picture is integral to getting that mindset together. We’re all in this together.

Mind the gap

Finally, we always try to be mindful of the gap. We try to be aware and accommodating of how the people we are talking to like to communicate and what their priorities are. We are all a part of “the Narrative Science family,” but that doesn’t mean we are all exactly the same. You’d be amazed how far this recognition will get you.

You’re all working toward the same goal

We all have the major priority and value of believing in our software and the mission behind it, but we have different roadmaps. And that is okay! Diversity is obviously important in the workplace and that includes diversity of thought. I am not trying to change the values of any of the engineers, and they are not trying to change mine. 

Instead, we try to find common ground and make the gap as small as possible. The gap will always exist, but it doesn’t have to be a leap to cross. If you work at it, it may just be a normal step.

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