Nadya Khoja on Using Team Alignment to Achieve Exceptional Outcomes

Team alignment is crucial for a company’s long-term success, but how do company leaders champion alignment? And what can we learn from those who are getting it right, especially at a time when so much of our workforce is currently remote?

In this interview, Nadya Khoja, Chief Growth Officer at Venngage, talks about all things team alignment with her interviewer Aditya Sheth (also from Venngage).

They discuss the connection between company culture and team alignment, how she aligned teams at Venngage to focus on company-wide goals, the growing pains she faced, and the practical advice she hopes will help others align both remote and in-house teams.

Aditya: From personal experience, why do you think aligning your team is important?

Nadya: For me, team alignment comes down to your company culture. Culture fuels people and drives their behavior more than anything else. A lack of team alignment comes from a lack of culture in the workplace. And without an aligned team, your company won’t be able to go the distance.

Especially considering the current crisis we’re facing and the uncertainty that comes with it – along with a workforce that has become remote for many companies – maintaining company culture is more important than ever.

Aditya: How did you achieve team alignment at Venngage?

Nadya: At Venngage there are four primary teams: marketing, product, engineering, and support. And we’re a SaaS (software as a service) company.

I know a lot of what Validity does relates to marketing and sales alignment, but we don’t have a sales team due to the nature of our product. Our alignment has to do with product and engineering. And it’s interesting because the product and engineering team’s main focus isn’t revenue acquisition. That’s what we marketers focus on.

One of the issues we have faced, and still continue to face, is getting everyone behind the same cause and the same goal. That, again, comes back to the company culture.

The first thing I did to tackle this issue was building companywide OKRs (objectives and key results) on a yearly basis.

With OKRs, people can see what the objective is as a whole, how it ties back to each team (not just individually), and how each team fits into fulfilling this massive goal.

At Venngage, our OKRs start with a revenue goal just because marketing can directly influence it. Revenue is influenced not only by acquisition, but also through retention.

There are a lot of things that can be done from a product standpoint to improve retention. So this is where marketers need to align with the product team. Why? Because if the product team is creating features or providing massive improvement that customers want, but don’t understand the potential implications on revenue, this can often hurt the business rather than help it.

So when it comes to product and marketing, you need to juggle:

  • Business necessity
  • User necessity

Educating your team on trying to balance both these necessities while being customer-driven is a great way to align your teams toward a common goal.

The same example applies when aligning your marketing and sales teams. Sales teams are always looking for highly-qualified leads that they can convert, while marketing is looking at volume of traffic.

This is where you might lack alignment with your sales and marketing teams.

If your teams understand user necessity, the jobs they must do, and how to tie that back to business necessity, you’ll most likely make something people want and are willing to pay for.

Aditya: What have been your challenges aligning teams, both internal and external?

Nadya: As I said earlier, one challenge was rallying people from various departments toward the same goal. But another struggle that comes to mind is meetings.

We used to have a lot of meetings, and I feel having too many meetings almost ruined us due to constant back and forth, context switching, and broken telephones in the process.

A few years ago, we had a really small team. Being lean made it easy to trigger organic conversations with everybody and problem-solving occurred instantaneously. But as you grow, planning your communication to be smooth and organic starts becoming a challenge.

Clayton Christensen uses “arrows” as an analogy to talk about alignment in one of his business courses. When a team is aligned, it’s like all of those arrows are pointing in the same direction and you’re all heading toward that one thing. When you start adding people to the team, more arrows are tossed in and they’re not all facing the same direction yet. So there’s often a lot of friction and a lot of issues to overcome in order to try to align all those arrows in the same direction.

Keeping everybody aligned as Venngage keeps growing from 8 to 60 employees and beyond is something I’ve struggled with, and sometimes still do.

Aditya: Are there any differences in aligning in-house and remote teams? If so, how have you tackled them?

Nadya: There are a few differences.  I used to think that we were good at aligning our remote teams. But now that the whole company is remote, I feel like maybe we weren’t as aligned as I thought.

We have a mix of in-house, remote, full-time, and part-time employees at Venngage.

It’s the same idea with aligning in-house teams, but managing a remote marketing team, for example, requires improved communication and tightly-defined processes.

It’s not only about writing down the process and talking through it. A lot of our onboarding and training documents need to be tweaked for remote workers.

If somebody works in-house, it’s easier to maintain your company culture because we can talk to you, eat lunch with you, and even invite you out to events.

But what I’ve noticed is that members of my team who were completely remote felt out of the loop, especially if the whole company wasn’t completely remote.

But if the company is entirely remote like we are right now, everybody ends up on the same page. You’re on calls, you’re on slack, and that’s how you communicate when working remotely effectively.

If you’re half remote and half in-house, or even have a few people working remotely, it does cause conversation gaps, and this is where misalignment might creep in.

One thing we do to help our remote marketing team stay connected is invite them to our annual company retreat, Christmas party, and other local events, so they often end up in Toronto at least twice a year.

Aditya: What are some actionable steps other companies can adopt to align their teams?

Nadya: The thing about team alignment is that it’s not a quick tactic that you can employ right away.

It requires a lot of friction and communication that will potentially cause tension. Be ready to have conversations, both good and bad, if you want your teams to be aligned.

Start by building processes around one overarching OKR. With OKRs, take into account both user and business necessities and plan around that.

Incorporate the right online collaboration and project management tools to make sure your processes scale as your company does.

And as I said earlier, focus on improving your company culture to make team alignment easier. Again, that comes from having a singular mission, core values your employees can rally behind, and hiring for culture fit over skillset fit.

For more on team alignment and improved communication, download the Sales and Marketing Communication Checklist.

 

Guest author: Aditya Sheth does Content and SEO at Venngage. When he’s not busy writing or tinkering with Google search, he’s having fun reading, listening to music, or traveling. Add him on LinkedIn or tweet him @iamadityashth.

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