The Behavioural and Relational Characteristics of Successful Product Teams

Barbara Bermes
4 min readFeb 9, 2023

How do you (or anybody else in your company) know or measure if your product team is successful?

I strongly argue that if the following “4P” traits are being practiced, the successful delivery of impactful solutions for customers is highly guaranteed — and the team is seen as successful.

Psychological Safety

This is one of my biggest guiding principles as a leader, manager and human to build high-performing teams. Adam Grant knows how important it is, as well as Google researched it.

Feeling safe (and making others feel safe) to engage in behaviours that could negatively influence how others perceive your competence, awareness, or positivity.

We have entered an era of the workforce where people need to be allowed to practice vulnerability, authenticity and honesty in order to build safe, inclusive and high-performing groups/teams.

It’s all about trust to receive and give

Do you trust….

  • to share being vulnerable?
  • to feel included and heard?
  • that your team member would tell you if they don’t agree with you?

A few simple ways to measure success: Your manager is vulnerable with your team, sharing mistakes they’ve made, and you feel comfortable sharing with them what they need to do more/less of. You feel empowered to challenge somebody else’s perspective without sounding rude. You feel you can ask and receive honest feedback. After a heated conversation, you feel better and good and have a smile on your face.

Practicing Radical Empathy

It goes without saying that successful PMs are customer obsessed, and show radical empathy to customers. You should always be talking to customers. In addition, in order to build a successful product team, it’s the PM’s responsibility to build trust and credibility from other functions, especially sales and customer success. Work with them, talk with them NOT to them, listen to them. I’m sure you have seen this in your career: frustrated GTM teams sharing with you that they don’t know what is being built or why? It’s one thing to motivate your product team but another important thing to care for and share is empathy with your cross-functional teams. Don’t work in a silo, practice asking for their ideas, and bring them in early.

A simple way to measure success: Ask a member of the GTM team if they know where the roadmap is, what is on it and most importantly why. Or, no random questions in Slack like“when will we deliver x?”

Partnering with Engineering

To me, this is actually the utmost important piece of the traits needed. I’ve seen it myself as an IC as well as a manager, the best product teams have a very solid and strong relationship with their engineering counterpart and engineers.

Bear with me on this one, this almost sounds like a piece of relationship advice — don’t stop talking with each other, overcommunicate and validate constantly. Constantly. Have a RACI chart that you and your counterpart agree on, only then can you make sure clear expectations are set, and frustration won’t build up e.g. because you might be waiting for the eng manager to do something and vice versa. There are so many times in my career when product teams failed when product and engineering either didn’t get along or didn’t care/value the importance of this relationship.

Sneak Peak — stay tuned because my friend and former peer/counterpart Dominique Simoneau-Richtie and I will start a podcast about exactly that very soon.

A few simple ways to measure success: Your engineering counterpart supports you vocally, and has your back during discussions about your product area. And, every engineer on the team can answer the questions of what and why they are working on the thing they are working on.

Pragmatism

This is an interesting one, especially for all the perfectionists; at Lever, we called this, as one of our company values, “Choose Reality”. Of course, as a PM, you want to ship the best and most beautiful and successful feature. A great product team knows when to focus on “getting it done” vs. debating and iterating on the decision. Great product teams know when to stop convincing or overanalyzing decisions or directions. In the end, you as a PM have a job to do, and you all work for the success of the company — they are the ones who pay you (apologies for sounding harsh).

I’ve seen PMs/UX designers getting upset or disengaged (myself included in my early career), and sometimes even becoming toxic, and frustrated because management suddenly decided to pivot, and change priorities —Trust me, I feel you, that’s not fun to go back to engineering/customers and tell them things have changed. I know, you feel you’ve lost credibility or ownership, but as a successful product team and manager, you will need to know when to let go of your idea/suggestion of what you think would be best. I (unfortantley) have to tell you , you will never have all the information that others might have. Most of the time, pushing against it causes your entire team to struggle more, disengage and not care anymore. It’s your job as a PM to be the mediator and motivator to make sure to keep the team excited about why/what they are building. You got this, you can move on :)

I don’t like calling these “soft” skills, but more than ever (in a remote world) is this job about building relationships, trying to listen to understand, and applying the above tactics to make your product area/team successful.

Feel free to share your thoughts/ideas, as always.

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Barbara Bermes

Product Director @Workleap | Formerly Product at @Deel, Head of Product @lever, product @Mozilla | Author of @lean_websites | bbinto.me