How to Create More Competent Groups

As a manager, I have long been fascinated by the concept of high-performance teams (HPTs). HPTs are groups of individuals focused on their tasks and capable of delivering excellent financial results. Despite my extensive research into the subject, I found that most materials on the topic of HPTs remain theoretical and provide little guidance on how to build a high-performance team. As an engineer, I am always seeking out the most efficient methods to achieve a goal, but I have not been able to find a foolproof way to construct a team or develop a product. After considerable study, I believe I have developed a “formula” that works for me. In the following paragraphs, I will explain this “formula” and how I intend to use it to help my team become a high-performance unit more quickly.

What’s the Recipe?

I am an avid reader of CTO Craft‘s Tech Manager Weekly newsletter which is delivered to my mailbox each Monday. Each week, I receive a carefully selected collection of articles on topics such as engineering, culture, process and leadership. Instead of picking up a physical newspaper on Mondays, I tend to devote my time to catching up on the reading I have at hand. As I was perusing my reading list on a Friday afternoon, I stumbled upon an article written by Simon Powers. This piece featured a formula which Powers proposed.

Team performance is equal to the potential of the team less the effects of external factors.

After carefully considering the details, I came to understand the significance of this formula. Reflecting on the successes and failures of my engineering team, I was able to link each to either team potential or outside interference. When one of my groups experienced delays in their release, it was typically due to inadequate assumptions from within the team (low team potential) and/or external factors that had an impact on the project (high outside interference).

As an engineer, I am always looking for ways to increase productivity and efficiency. For this purpose, I have determined that if we look at the equation X = Y – Z, then the only way to increase X is to both increase Y and decrease Z. Therefore, I will investigate the variables that have been most influential in the success of teams in my company in the past. Additionally, I will analyse how external factors might have affected those outcomes. In the following paragraphs, I will describe how this formula applies to my engineering group and company, and what steps we can take to maximize our effectiveness.

Teams’ Potential

The potential of a team lies in the abilities and characteristics of its members as well as the way they interact with each other. With dedication and hard work, these abilities and interactions can lead to a successful and productive team. In my experience, there are certain factors that have a positive impact on the performance of my team. These include:

  1. Purpose

    As a leader, it is essential to take the time to define, explain, and over-communicate the mission of the team to the members. This is not always an easy task, but it is essential for igniting enthusiasm and passion in the team and keeping those positive emotions alive. A strong mission statement can be the driving force that encourages team members to be excited to start each day. It is my responsibility as a leader to ensure that my team understands how their work is influencing the company as a whole.
  2. Skillsets

    It is essential that we assess whether our team has all the necessary expertise required to carry out the task efficiently. In a modern agile team, it is important that software engineers, product managers, and designers are all included. If my specific expertise is needed to address the current business challenge, I should make it available to the team by either recruiting a specialist or providing training to existing staff members.
  3. Mental Security

    When members of a team are confident enough to take risks without worrying about potential negative outcomes, they experience a heightened sense of psychological safety. This encourages an open, supportive environment in which individuals feel comfortable admitting to mistakes and learning from them, rather than attempting to conceal them. I consider it a warning sign when I observe team members hesitating to actively participate in team meetings and retrospectives, such as by raising their hands or posing probing questions.
  4. Changes in Speed, Course, and Acceleration, as Well as Changes in Relative Location (VDAP)

    In physics, a moving object’s trajectory may be characterised by its velocity, bearing, acceleration, and present location. My former supervisor, Scott Carleton, postulated that these same features could be used to illustrate the collective action of a team of individuals working together towards a shared goal.
    • The team’s velocity can be used to measure the rate of progress being made towards the desired objective. By calculating the number of story points completed in any given iteration, teams can gain insight into the speed at which their development process is progressing.
    • The ability to recognise and address mistakes quickly and efficiently is demonstrated through the rate of progress a team makes. Retrospectives are a vital practice for analysing our performances and identifying areas of improvement; however, it has been difficult to measure the impact they have on our rate of acceleration.
    • The heading explains the group’s present course of action in contrast to the desired course of action.
    • The team’s current status is reflected in their position relative to their competitors. On a daily basis, we carve out five minutes for a “stand up” meeting to assess our progress in comparison to that of our rivals.

    Based on my previous experience, having a reliable internal procedure in place that identifies the VDAP (Value-Driven Agile Process) enables my team to increase its agility, autonomy and responsibility in implementing the required course corrections.

External Influence

An organisation’s productivity may suffer if it has to deal with distractions or interruptions from sources outside the group.

  1. Modifying the Objectives

    Given the ever-changing nature of the business landscape, striking a moving target is often a challenge for companies. When objectives are modified in the midst of a project, it can be disorienting for teams and cause a decline in morale. My past experience has taught me that if I fail to see the larger picture and continually refocus the team’s efforts, the team’s performance can suffer. This can lead to a buildup of frustration and an overall decrease in productivity.
  2. The Top Leadership Takes a Hiatus

    Whenever there is a change of leadership, it is understandable that there may be some anxiety among staff members. Fear often arises from uncertainty, particularly in regard to what kind of changes the new leader, supervisor, or manager may bring about. One of the most important yet time-consuming tasks for a new leader is to build trust and credibility with each team member.
  3. Adaptations to the Organisation

    The implementation of changes to the organisational structure can have similar implications for teams as the introduction of new leadership. Teams are generally required to report directly to their respective department’s management, which means that any reorganisation or restructuring of a department will have an effect on its respective teams. Therefore, in light of the organisational adjustments, it is necessary to realign, set new goals and objectives, and review pre-existing ones. Even departments that are not directly involved in the changes may need to reassess their partnerships with those that are affected. As a result of the upheaval, it is likely that the abilities of individuals and teams may vary.
  4. Micromanagement

    As engineers, it is important to provide them with a sense of autonomy and trust in order for them to be able to perform to the best of their abilities. When supervisors take a too meticulous and restrictive approach, this can have a negative impact on productivity and morale. To ensure the team is productive, it is best to be clear in the issue statement and provide guidance, but allow the team to take the lead in terms of how the issue should be addressed. It is important to understand that micromanaging can have a detrimental effect on the team and their output.
  5. Conflict between squads

    No engineering team can effectively operate in isolation when they are collaborating on a single codebase or product. As a result, they need to cooperate with other teams in order to complete their tasks. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for engineers to encounter overlapping duties, which can impede the delivery process. One example of this is when an engineer has to wait for a pull request from a different group. Additionally, a team may release code that disrupts another component of the program that is the responsibility of their respective team. Finally, waiting for a code review from another team can delay the progress of the engineer. These are some of the most common problems that I have witnessed between teams that could potentially be avoided by having clear-cut procedures and guidelines in place.

I will now assess the potential influences on my engineering team’s performance that I am able to directly manage. For example, while I may be unable to prevent internal restructuring, I can make decisions regarding which skills to priorities when recruiting engineers. Once I have identified the elements I can influence, I will set quarterly goals in order to enhance my team’s performance.

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