The needs that High Performing Teams have

In my previous blogpost, I wrote about the characteristics of High Performing Teams. To come to these characteristics I did a small literature review. For this part, I will establish the needs that need to be filled in in order to enable teams to become high performing.

Remember, I am still talking about a team of knowledge workers developing and maintaining a software product.

Here are the needs:

  • A clear, inspiring, and engaging vision, direction and/or purpose, set by the organization or organizational context of the team. It must be clear to the team how their work and their collective work product contributes to the broader vision, direction, and/or purpose of the organization.
    An inspiring purpose motive not only helps in motivating the team, as is explained by Daniel Pink in his work Drive, it also helps in giving the team direction by means of a pull mechanism. Pushing KPIs generally does not help.
  • A shared team goal that the team itself created. For example, a shared idea of what an ideal team looks like. And, derived from the team goal, shared team values help giving team members direction.
    A shared vision of what an ideal team looks like also helps the team in coming up with improvement initiatives on their own. Moreover, each team member needs a place in the team where they can add the most value. A shared team goal and shared team values help team members think about how they can contribute.
  • Metrics that show a team’s progress towards their team goal and towards the vision, direction and/or purpose of the organization.
    This helps them in establishing a way to measure progress and a way to measure success or failure of the collective work product. Think about number of defects found for IT teams that want to deliver quality, or number of new customers attracted due to the release of a collective work product for an organization that needs to grow its client base.
  •  A shared belief that it is safe to take risks and share a range of ideas without the fear of being humiliated. This model of teamwork is called Psychological safety.
  • An interesting find by Google’s Project Aristotle is that team composition does not play a role in team performance, but psychological safety is of utmost importance. And J. Marcus wrote “What makes a great team is when the team norms promote a culture of psychological safety where the sum will be greater than its parts.”

  • Frequent feedback on their collective work product from engaged stakeholders and/or customers and/or end-users.
    Not having engaged stakeholders is like a pilot continuously flying an empty airliner; it is a demotivator. Conversation with customers and end-users also helps in determining the success of the collective work product. If a team has engaged stakeholders and the organization is able to provide for a safe environment in the context of psychological safety, it enables the team to search for support for their ideas and sharing ideas becomes fun.
  • Time to invest in becoming better. This can be done by giving the team time to do stuff that they want. An example of this is Google’s 20% free time that was given to employees from 2004 to 2012. In Scrum, improvement initiatives that arise from the Retrospective can be estimated and put on the Product Backlog and taken into subsequent sprints.
  • Of course the first line of the Agile manifesto is Individuals and interaction over processes and tools, but sometimes you need tools to enable the interaction. For distributed teams, make sure they have communication tools.

  • Autonomy. Please stop micromanaging the teams and the people in the teams. It is ineffective and demotivating. One of the Agile principles is The best architecture, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. Moving from Human Resources to People Operations; it helps to delegate more and more responsibility to the team, making it truly self-organizing.
  • Celebrate success. Too often I find teams working really hard on a collective work product, only to jump on the next one without taking time to reflect on their accomplishments.

These are the needs that I managed to extract from my little research project. Please let me know what you think.

In my next blogpost I will continue and derive fields of attention and actions to take for Agile managers and Agile coaches. Please stay tuned!


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