When it comes to leadership and team dynamics, the evolution from mere management to inspiring true leadership encompasses both profound challenges and remarkable rewards. 

I'm Megan Koharik, Senior Director of Product Management at Priceline, and through my journey across various roles and business environments, I've garnered invaluable insights into the essence of fostering a rockstar product team

My experiences have reinforced the indispensable value of connection, the critical role of every team member's unique strengths, and the enduring impact of purpose-driven collective endeavors. 

In this article, I’ll unfold strategies that have consistently helped in nurturing effective teams, ensuring not just cooperation but passionate collaboration towards a unified vision.

Evolving into effective product leadership

As product leaders, many of you have reached your current positions due to your proficiency in discovery, execution, and stakeholder management. However, leading a team of product professionals is an entirely different challenge —it's almost like a separate job altogether, one that we often don't discuss enough.

My hope is that by utilizing generative AI for more routine tasks, such as data analysis and locating specific documents in our vast repositories, we can redirect our focus towards more impactful areas: leadership, development, and team motivation.

By investing in these aspects, we can align our teams around a clear and compelling mission. This shift not only enhances team belief in our vision but also drives the efficiencies we strive for in our projects. Let's dive into how we can transform these saved hours into valuable leadership opportunities, fostering a team that is motivated and aligned with our goals.

Building a dynamic product team

Building the right team is the cornerstone of successful product leadership. Many inherit teams, while others may start from scratch, especially in a startup environment. Regardless of the scenario, hiring is a common thread. 

My advice is not to limit your hiring to just product managers. Instead, look for individuals who are inherently curious, ask challenging questions, and think conceptually —traits that go beyond the standard qualifications.

To illustrate, I'll share my own path to becoming a Senior Director of Product at Priceline. My career began in business development, not product management. This background provided me with a deep understanding of business and customer perspectives, enabling me to fall in love with solving problems rather than being fixated on solutions. This shift in focus was crucial when I noticed discrepancies between what our partners wanted and what our customers actually needed.

I've observed successful transitions into product management from various departments. Individuals from Quality Assurance, for example, bring precision to product requirements documents (PRDs) that is hard to match. Those from technology backgrounds bring invaluable insights into estimations. Our role as leaders is to recognize the potential in these diverse experiences and guide these individuals into product roles.

Steve Jobs once said, "It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." This philosophy is pivotal in building a team. It's challenging and sometimes intimidating to hire people who possess skills we lack, but it's essential for creating a robust team. These hires not only enhance our team's capabilities but also elevate us as leaders. 

Always remember your team's brilliance reflects directly on your leadership.

Fostering team understanding and trust

Once you've assembled a diverse team, the next critical step is deepening your understanding of each member on a personal level. It's vital to see beyond their roles and recognize their individual human qualities.

One of my favorite ways to bring a team closer is through volunteer work. As someone who acknowledges her privileged position, I find great value in giving back to the community, and I encourage my team at Priceline to join me. We are fortunate to have three paid days off per year, specifically for volunteering. 

By organizing offsite community service events, not only do we contribute positively to society, but these activities also serve as excellent team-building exercises. Whether it's to help new team members bond or to bridge gaps between departments, volunteering has proven to be an effective strategy.

An example of this in action is when I coordinated a company-wide week of service at Priceline. 

We held events in each office, achieving an impressive 60% participation rate. The impact extended beyond the week of volunteering; I observed enhanced interactions among colleagues, which translated into more engaged and cooperative efforts on projects. This experience reinforced the idea that investing time in community service can foster better relationships within teams.

However, volunteering isn't the only way to strengthen team dynamics. It's a myth that effective team-building requires a large budget or physical co-presence. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, for instance, we hosted a virtual "Nailed It!" baking challenge over Zoom. This low-budget, fun activity had lasting positive effects on team morale and camaraderie.

According to Patrick Lencioni's "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," trust is foundational to a team's success, similar to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Without trust, a team cannot fully commit to or achieve its goals. These team-building activities, whether in-person or virtual, play a crucial role in establishing and strengthening this trust, ensuring we are well-aligned and ready to tackle our objectives effectively.