It’s no secret that successful teams are made of people who have strong and robust relationships with one another. Healthy relationships are the glue that keeps a team together; the bonds that help them defeat challenges and celebrate victories.
Poor relationships, however, can erode productivity and disrupt projects. In 2019, costs associated with employee turnover due to toxic and unhealthy work environments cost U.S. companies $617 billion. You probably think critically about company culture and employee relationships all the time.
But while many leaders take the relationships with their in-house team seriously, they fail to foster strong relationships with their outside contractors. They often think: “That team will only be around for a few months. Why should I invest myself in those relationships?”
Simply put: Better relationships with your outside developers lead to better work products, a stronger commitment to project goals, and a more pleasant experience for everyone involved. Depending on the scope of your project, you could be working with your outside developers for months or even years, so it's critical that you find ways to build relationships based on trust, understanding, and shared goals.
So that begs the question: How do you foster those relationships with a team who doesn’t come into the office? A team that technically works for you, but also reports to their own organization.
In this article, we offer six key steps to establish healthy relationships with your contract development team. These tips will help you create a positive environment so you can focus on building a quality product.
Step 1: Treat Them as Members of Your Own Team
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of your outside developers as “vendors” or “partners” rather than team members. But creating healthy relationships with developers requires a different mindset due to the nature of their work and their intimacy with your project. It’s better, therefore, to think of them as team members.
If you share an interesting article over Slack, do it in a public channel your outside developers can see. If you send your team some free swag, send them to contractors as well. Make yourself just as accessible to the outside developers as you are anyone else in your organization. Most importantly, take their problems and challenges seriously, just like you would for your in-house employees. This makes everyone feel valued, respected, and included.
Step 2: Learn About Their Personal Lives
It may seem tedious, but learning about the people you work with is a key way to find common ground. As you learn about one another, you’ll develop deeper bonds that make it harder for each party to disappoint the other.
Fortunately, this isn't difficult. People love to talk about what they love. Spend a little time discussing your outside developers’ hobbies and interests. Share your interests, thoughts, and opinions as well. Don’t be afraid to engage in a little banter over their favorite teams or gush over the latest album. (As always, stay professional.)
Step 3: Develop a Communication Plan
Poor communication is one of the easiest ways to sour a relationship with anyone, but especially with your outside developers. Communication is key throughout the entirety of the relationship, from onboarding to final delivery. You can avoid countless problems by developing a clear communication plan and keeping your lines of communication open.
A communication plan doesn't need to be complex, but it should keep everyone on the same page. You'll need to establish a few details.
Establish a communication frequency. How often will you speak? 10-minute morning meetings? 30-minute meetings on Fridays? At certain development milestones?
Decide who will communicate from your organization and the outside contractor.
Establish communication methods. These could be Zoom conferences, phone calls, or in-person meetings if your team is on-site. You’ll also want to pick your project management tools (Jira, Asana, ClickUp, etc.), though it’s often best to have your developers invite you to whichever tool they’re comfortable using.
Establish a plan for updates. For instance, you might have the developer send you progress reports via email each week.
Here’s a sample communication plan. Notice that it’s pretty basic, but it creates regular communication opportunities to show progress and tackle challenges.
Try to keep a balance of email and video chat. Email is great for creating a paper trail (accountability is important), but it doesn’t do much to develop and grow relationships. In fact, 60% of people regularly misread tone or message when communicating via email or phone, which explains why 95% of professionals believe face-to-face meetings are essential. But while video helps people relate, it’s terrible at documenting decisions and delegating action steps.
Furthermore, make it easy for your outside developers to contact you. For the duration of your project, they are part of your team just like your in-house employees.
Step 4: Respect Their Autonomy and Hierarchy
When you hire an outside development team - a good one, at least - they’ll have their own internal hierarchy and workflow. It’s important to abide by that structure as you work together. (Hopefully you were aware of these qualities before you hired the new team.)
For instance, if you work with DevSquad, we assign a Product Manager to your account. This person is your liaison to the development team. They help you - the product owner - coordinate development to meet your goals and timeline. You’ll undoubtedly meet and have discussions with the developers on your account, but most of your communication will flow through the Product Manager. This system eliminates confusion and keeps communication streamlined.
Whatever outside development team you use will have their own system. You may have to be a little flexible, especially when it comes to collaboration tools and meeting times. If you disrupt their system, you’ll make everyone’s job harder, which will ultimately damage your relationships.
Step 5: Be Clear About Your Expectations
Every healthy relationship begins with clear expectations. Both parties need to understand what the other party hopes to get out of the arrangement. If you aren’t on the same page, there’s a good chance you’ll end up working toward competing goals.
In the case of outside development, both parties want to create a quality product, but there’s a lot of ways to get there. It’s important to work with the Product Manager on your development team to design an MVP and development road map that meets your needs.
Whenever you work with your outside developers, speak in terms of goals, not tasks. Explain what you want the product to achieve, not just what it should do. Define clear metrics that indicate success so everyone is working toward the same outcome. Let the experienced developers come up with a way to meet those needs.
Think of it like this: Instead of saying “I want a skateboard,” say “I want to get from point A to point B.” The best solution may not be a skateboard!
Most importantly, make sure of what you want before you delegate it. Changing your mind after development starts is possible, but costly in terms of time, money, and technical debt. A good outside development team will encourage you to take your time making decisions to reduce the risks of changes later on.
Step 6: Express Feedback Constructively
During your relationship with your outside development team, there will come a point where something won't seem right. Maybe the plan isn't progressing on schedule. Maybe a particular feature doesn't work as expected. It's important to speak up about these issues, but for the sake of the relationship, be careful how you do that.
Keep in mind that most development teams are made up of professionals. If there is a mistake in the product or the workflow, it probably isn't due to malice or incompetence. There’s most likely a reasonable explanation for the error, and the development team is usually happy to fix it.
In these cases, it’s best to raise your objections in a positive, forward-thinking manner. Don’t reduce the conversation to blame and criticisms. Be constructive and solution-focused.
To be successful, you must prioritize healthy relationships with your team. That includes your contract developers who may only be with you for a few months or a year. Strong relationships inspire people to work together to achieve common goals. If you follow the steps we outlined above, you’ll kick off your development projects with healthy relationships and positive attitudes.