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Enabling and Sustaining High Performing Teams

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High-performance teams and hyper-productivity are one of the commonly cited benefits of adopting Agile techniques.  A number of comentators provide advice on creating an environment that fosters and supports the formation of high performance teams of creative innovators.  

In a Forrester Research paper titled "Best Practices: Building High-Performance Application Development Teams" Jeffrey S. Hammond presents three best practices for forming high-performance teams:

Best Practice No. 1: Recruit The Right Players For Your Team
Best Practice No. 2: Create An Intrinsically Motivating Development Culture
Best Practice No. 3: Manage Your Team With Lean Software Techniques

According to Hammond:

"Partner Player" development shops are in the best position to enable business growth, because they're flexible and staffed with creative software development professionals assembled in high-performance development teams. Managers looking to become Partner Player development shops should adjust their recruiting practices to attract creative development professionals. They should also adjust their culture to keep high performers happy and create an environment where employees can develop into those desirable high performers. Finally, they should manage high-performance teams with a streamlined set of Lean Software development processes that allow them to maximize the time they spend "in flow," doing the mission-critical tasks you pay them to do.

Addressing the topic of talent attraction and retention Fast Company blogger Aaron Shapiro wrote about "Why Digital Talent Doesn’t Want To Work At Your Company" in which he lists some anti-patterns that discourage tallent and destroy high performance. 

  • Every element of their work will be pored over by multiple layers of bureaucracy.
  • Mediocre is good enough.
  • Trial and error is condemned.
  • Your company is structured so it takes a lifetime to get to the top, and as such there are no digital experts in company-wide leadership positions.
  • Your offices are cold, impersonal and downright stodgy.

He says:

The opportunity to do great things, to make a real difference, is what drives most digital talent--whether they’re developers, designers, producers, marketers or business folks.
Most companies don’t offer this, so they skip your company and work somewhere that’s more innovative and exciting. End of story. But the good news is that you can offer them something exciting and great.

However, it is not sufficient to just have an environment that enables high-performance, even when teams are performing well together, they need to be focused on delivering the right results - the ones that add the maximum value to the organisation.

J.D. Meier uses "5 Questions for Capability and Capacity of High-Performing Teams

  1. We have capability do we have capacity?
  2. We have capacity do we have capability?
  3. We have capacity and capability, do we have throughput?
  4. We have capability, capacity and throughput, do we have effectiveness? (against goals and desired outcomes)
  5. We have capacity, capability, and throughput, do we have efficiency? (Now we know what to do, can we do it well.)

He places particular attention on #3:

It forces you to analyze and evaluate, demand, throughput, and supply. It raises issues around “push” vs. “pull” strategies. It raises issues around team structure and design. It raises issues around how you split or combine the work, to go along with how you split or combine the team. It also is a great place to use TOC (Theory of Constraints) analysis to find your worst bottleneck and push the bottleneck around (it’s always somewhere, and if you know where your bottleneck is, you can decide if it’s the best place to be or what to do about it.) This is also a great chance to explore different methodologies, strategies and systems for execution. For example, if you want to be more responsive to demand and “pull” things through your execution engine, then Lean practices are a great place to look.

Tom Reynolds examined The Quest for High Performance in which he compares the environment and charactistericts for high-performing teams to a tree:

I described the roots (or values) of the tree as follows:


The leaves (or high performance traits) were these:

Self organising
Trust motivates us
Own our own decisions and commitments
Consensus driven
Believe we can solve anything
Constructive disagreement
Committed to team success

And the fruits of our tree, our indicators of high performance were as follows:

Get business value faster
Get the right business value
Get astonishing results
A team that can do anything
Room for individual and team growth

What are the elements you have found useful in enabling higt performance teams that are both efficient and effective?


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