Making Teams WorkIntroBy Duncan Austin on Wed, 14 June 2023
For any company, it should be a high priority to make our teams work. But, to do that we need to understand what drives high performance in teams and how to measure it.
I've been given the space to investigate and experiment with this. To start with, I needed to study the science of performance, work out how to implement it in the real world, and then figure out how to measure it fairly accurately.
The science seems to be pretty clear, both at the level of the individual and at the level of the team. Broadly, individuals thrive and are most productive when they have energy, and energy comes from focus and achievement (ie, getting into the flow); and getting into the flow comes from doing what we love. Groups thrive and are most productive when everyone knows what they need to do, trusts their peers, and has a lot of frequent, distributed communication.
Different people will be energised by different things, and it's my job as a manager to help them discover what those things are and how to best use them to achieve what we need to achieve.
For the group, I need to keep the goal clearly visible and structure the group so that the buzz of communication enhances collective intelligence.
If you can't measure it, you don't know if you need it and you don't know if you've got it
While we've been experimenting with ways to do this, it's also vital that we can measure the results. We need to know that the things we do improve the dynamics in the team in a way that boosts performance. As researcher Marcus Buckingham says - "If you can't measure it, you don't know if you need it and you don't know if you've got it".
Part of what I've been focusing on in the last 3 quarters is how to measure these productive dynamics. Our initial results look promising, ie, that they do measure something real, and that translates into higher team performance.
We've come up with a series of impact statements that each person in the team answers about each other person. They are not asked to rate each other, which would fall prey to the idiosyncratic rater effect (that people are not accurate raters of each other). Rather, impact statements measure how much impact each person has had on the others' work. Such an impact is valuable to the company.
Some examples are:
"This person regularly unblocks me in my work"
"I am always confident when this person takes the initiative to drive a solution forward"
"I go to this person when I have a difficult problem to solve"
This gives us a matrix of how each person impacts the rest of the team, over and above the actual work that they output. If this is accurate, it will give valuable insights into the real value of each employee and into what is actually going on in the team.
The results have been very interesting and the initial indications are that they do measure something real. In my team, we've gained valuable insights and found ways to make them work better.
It's been great to be able to essentially debug the dynamics in the team and focus them in the most productive way we can while allowing people to craft their own best impact.
Next: The Science