Take a minute to think about the words you use to communicate with others. Have you ever struggled to come up with the ‘right’ word to convey your exact meaning?

In business, we use shared language to communicate with our team to achieve common goals. The words we choose ultimately play a huge role in the outcome of our work.  Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used action words in English:

Rank   Verb
3   to do
4   to say
7   to make
17   to tell
54   to understand
58   to create

When applied to software development, this ranking tells the story of how great products are delivered to market when a team has a shared language. OK. I did leave #18 ‘work’ and #35 ‘play’ off this list, but in software product development, we all know how those to fit into the mix! A shared language enables teams to tell others the goal of the work because they have a common understanding. They know what to do, how to talk to each other, and how to move the work forward. As a result, they can create products that address the business goals. Without a shared language, all of these actions still happen, but they will have very different results.

What is a shared language and why do you need one for your software product team?

At Geneca, shared language refers to individuals developing an understanding of the work to be done using words, phrases, images, models, and behaviors in a way that helps them communicate and collaborate more effectively.  It strengthens communication by increasing clarity of intent and reducing the need to ‘translate’ in order to be understood.  It improves collaboration by building and solidifying agreement and trust in each other to ensure that each member’s contributions align to a common goal.

Real understanding occurs when everyone is ‘on the same page’.  This can be difficult to achieve in a distributed workforce and global economy because product teams include a mix of stakeholders each bringing different backgrounds, expertise, culture, and business practices. In some cases, team members may even bring a different primary spoken language. A shared language enables teams to circumvent these issues by acknowledging they exist but intentionally choosing to create commonality in the areas that are important to advancing the work. In this way, a shared language serves to bypass the differences that could ordinarily become obstacles for teams.

How do you build a shared language among your software development team?

1. Acknowledge the need

Every time a new team comes together to deliver work, they should acknowledge the need for and begin to create their shared language. Without a shared language, there is no common understanding of the problem to be solved, the industry to be disrupted, or the brand to be built. Some groups do it intuitively and a phrase said casually can become the rallying cry and the start of the group’s shared language – e.g. “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges”.

2. Work together

Some groups, families, or friends have the luxury of building their shared languages over years of common experiences. Elements of the shared language will occur naturally in a group through the act of working together, but it can also be intentionally created and used to focus the group’s work.

3. Make something together

One of the easiest ways to begin to create a shared language for your group is to make something simple together. It can be a project charter, a workflow model, a customer profile, a sketch on a whiteboard. It can be created by the group or offered up by one of the team members.

4. Leverage available tools

Leveraging tools that encourage communication and collaboration accelerates the development of shared language. Examples include messaging, tweeting, posting on wikis, or using Google Docs. To develop the habit of shared language, your team needs to intentionally and consistently use the developed language.

5. Use a facilitator

The shared language should be curated by the group but can also be enhanced by a skilled facilitator. A facilitator can streamline the process of building the shared language because they know how to spot or introduce keywords and images and they help the team reinforce behaviors that are productive and weed out the ones that get in the way.

Want to keep all your team members on the same page? Make certain that page is filled with shared words that convey a common purpose. Together, you can articulate your success.

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