When I highlight a team as not high performing, frequent responses I often hear are:
- We hit our dates
- We stayed within budget
- Our team gets along
- We work well across teams/departments/customers
Those are wonderful things but I stand behind my observation. That is performing, not high performing. There is a difference. Let me be clear in that I want teams to become performing. I just don’t want them to settle there and engage the “don’t wake the sleeping baby” mindset. There’s is so much more to achieve.
There are plenty of articles/posts about the characteristics of High Performing Teams out there. I would also recommend the book Superteams by Khoi Tu. So there’s not much value for me to restate that. Instead, I’ll share signs that I specifically look for to help understand where a team is in their evolution (in no particular order):
- Is there healthy conflict? People afraid to voice their opinions, ideas, etc can never be a high performing team. Innovation from product features to creative solutions to how we work often comes from collaboration. If there’s not trust to throw out that crazy idea, innovation and growth will suffer. As a leader, when’s the last time you encouraged conflict?
- What’s the level of reflection and experimentation embraced within the team? A culture of continuous improvement needs to be the norm at an individual and team level. As a leader, when have you promoted reflection and experimenting outside of a retrospective?
- How frequent are role descriptions and/or silo bottlenecks? Yes, people bring specialized knowledge but it shouldn’t restrict what they contribute within a team. Yes, people should have primary responsibilities on a team but they should be actively working towards helping others grow as well as themselves. For example, the engineer can actually do testing too. His engineering skills will benefit as a result of this learning. As a leader, when have you supported rotating assignments for learning?
- Do people feel they have the best job ever? Yes, this is possible and should be a reality for people in software development. There is an energy that people feed off from each other when this exists. This feeling doesn’t happen when you are settling to deliver vs successfully challenging yourself and others to achieve something beyond what is expected. As a leader, do you know where your team would rate themselves in terms of high performance?
Simply, if as a leader you asked…
A team to stop working on their problems and just get the code out the door, would they say ok or get frustrated that it’s not good enough and try to figure out how to make it work? The first is performing, the second is high performing. You couldn’t stop that magic even if for some horrible reason you wanted to.
Is your team really high performing?