Back to home

Making Teams Work
Measuring: Impact 360
By Duncan Austin on Thu, 29 June 2023

Making Teams Work

IntroThe ScienceCollective Intelligence› Measuring: Impact 360

We know that teams can be greater than the sum of their parts (Collective Intelligence) and that much of what makes individuals highly performant is the environment they work in. We also know what those factors are. But how do we know if we have them, and how do we know who the drivers are?

Peter Coppinger, Teamwork.com CEO, told me about a manager at a large software company who had to let her lowest performer go, only to have the team collapse after he left. That person was holding the team together and lifting everyone else up. How can we know who those people are? This has been my task.

From the outset, I settled on real-world impact as the thing to measure - not abstract concepts. Abstract concepts would mean people rating people (Joe is a 2/5 on problem-solving, 3/5 on teamwork etc). There are mountains of research that person-rating-person is always bad data (it's called the idiosyncratic rater effect). Also, what does it matter if Joe is a 5/5 at problem-solving if he doesn't have much impact on problem-solving in the team?

What people are good reporters of is their reaction to things. This is what we use for measuring impact.

Instead of rating Joe on problem-solving, they answer a real-world-impact statement: "I go to Joe when I have a difficult problem to solve". That is accurate. They do or they don't. It also removes the stigma pressure to give non-accurate results - I'm not saying that Joe is bad at problem-solving, just that I don't go to him. That could be because we don't have much contact, or that my sort of problems aren't the sort that he could help with, etc.

The impact statements for my team are:

  • I go to them when I need extraordinary results
  • I choose to work with them as much as I possibly can
  • I believe they have a skill-set that is very difficult to replace
  • What skill is that?
  • I choose to go to them when I have a problem that I'm struggling with
  • I know that I can rely on what they say
  • I have learned a lot from them, and that has helped me in my work
  • They unblock me in my work
  • When there are chores to be done, I know that they will pull their weight
  • I am always confident when they take initiative to drive solutions forward
  • Apart from the above, I also think they are excellent in this area
  • I believe that they have an attitude problem that needs to be addressed immediately
  • What is that problem?

The one about chores tells me if entitlement is creeping into the team. Also, if people get into the flow at some point each day, then chores should be easy. If this is low, something is wrong. This is the canary in our coal mine.

Before I do an Impact 360, I hypothesise about what I expect. Eg, I don't expect people to go to juniors with difficult problems, or to be confident when they drive a solution.

The objective isn't for everyone to score high in everything. It's for us to understand what is driving the team in the real world.

So far, our results indicate that people are reporting accurately.

The results indicate that our Impact 360s are measuring something real. Teams that have isolated parts or people in very different timezones show less impact across those divides: People aren't just giving generous reviews.

We have a senior developer who scored high on everything, which should mean that everyone else performs higher when he is there. He went on leave for a week so we planned our sprint to only reduce by the work he would get through. We should see a lot of work carried over to the next sprint because everyone else would lose capacity. And we did. The impact we measured in his Impact 360 was accurate.

There have also been surprises. Some juniors measured highly in "I am always confident when they take the initiative to drive solutions forward". We looked into it, and sure enough, they had taken the initiative and did it reliably. It also means that the seniors are doing a good job at mentoring, which I should have expected if the seniors are having such a high impact across the measures. Now I understand my team better.

A big surprise was that designers in the team also score high on "I go to them when I have a difficult problem" and "They regularly unblock me in my work". What? We dove into it and, yes, designers regularly jump on calls with developers or QA and that unblocks them or helps them solve problems. Designers helped our api dev solve api issues! This changes my expectations of the value designers bring to the team.

It also changed how we understood the team: Turns out, we're not primarily an engineering team, we're a product team and the issues we solve are primarily cross-functional product issues rather than engineering issues.

So now we're making changes to how we work. We're starting a team "Start-up" channel and having "Start-up" round-tables where we pursue cross-discipline pollination. Our first one was at hashtag#TeamworkGC23 and there are some game-changing initiatives that came out of it. (Be afraid competitors, be very afraid).

Our Impact 360's gave us insights into the team that have allowed us to shift up several gears and inject new vigour.

Bees have brains the size of a grain of sand, yet they can collectively make complex decisions like finding the ideal location for a new hive. The secret lies in how they work together. The hive is far more intelligent than sum of the individuals.

We do something similar in our teams. We have bright people and we can amplify that by paying attention to the science of how people and groups thrive. Measuring those dynamics lets us be targeted in fine-tuning them to compete with competitors that have more funding.

Using our teams effectually is far more powerful than funding. It's good for the company and for our people.