Monday, September 17, 2007

Creating High Performance Teams

Have you ever been on a high performance team? If you have, it's an experience you'll never forget, and always long for. A project manager is supposed to manage budget, schedule and features. Creating a high performance team goes a long way toward achieving these goals, and having fun along the way.

So what is a high performance team, and how do you recognize one? That's a tough question - almost as tough as a definition of Agile development (there's no official definition of that either!). But here's my take on it:
  • All team members share the same project vision - they are 'jazzed' about what they do, and what they can contribute
  • Every team member is a "leader", and all share responsibility for everything on the project.
  • Excellent communication exists within the team
  • High team spirit, high morale exist.
  • The team meets goals, objectives and deadlines

Death of "the Job"

'Jobs' didn't exist before the industrial revolution. People were put in factories, and told to do one thing (their 'job'). Later, unions took this idea of 'the job', and ran with it. Jobs were created, and people were pigeon-holed into doing one job. Even today, some union jobs are for lifting things under 15 pounds (7 kg), and others are for lifting things over 15 pounds. I credit unions with creating one of the worst phrases known to man: "that's not my job". Such attitudes do not and cannot exist on high performance teams.

Does that mean that high performance teams are some sort of commune? Of course not- every team member still fulfills clearly defined roles, such as Project Manager, Developer, Training Coordinator, Logistics, and so on. As a project manager, when I assemble a new team for a project, the first thing I tell them is that though I'm the project manager, I expect them to be my eyes and ears, and help me identify tasks that need to be accomplished, and risks that could affect the project. I go on to say that I expect everyone to help everyone else who is on the critical path. For example, if we can't train everyone fast enough to roll out the software on time, then everyone on the team becomes a trainer, helping the Training Coordinator.

Another key element of fostering high performance teams is having daily stand-up meetings, where tasks are identified, status is reported , and any new risks are identified and discussed. These stand-up meetings are key to fostering excellent communication within the team, prioritizing work, and keeping morale high. Everyone knows what their tasks are for the day, and are much more likely to get them accomplished. Everyone becomes accountable to the team.

Everyone on the team needs to be recognized and valued for the skills and expertise they bring to the table, and everyone needs to feel free to express their ideas and share opinions. (One high performance team I participated on even went to a one-day Myers-Briggs class to help us better recognize and value the different perspectives we each had.) Over time, the team evaluates its own performance and becomes self-directing. It transforms into a hard-working organization that is having a lot of fun.

No comments: