There are different approaches to management, but all managers share one simple desire. We all want to succeed in what we do. To be successful, manager will require a strong team to rely on. But what is a Perfect team? I came with a simple concept that helps to define the parameters of such a team and to maximize these parameters.
A perfect team is like a perfect body, and therefore – could be trained as such. It has four “physical” characteristics: strength, agility, endurance and spirit (“healthy body, healthy mind”).
Team’s Strength correlates with the amount of work and the complexity of projects the team can perform – the more muscles you have, the more weight you can pull up. Here we a talking about the team’s size and overall expertise. Of course, based on the environment you are operating in (IT, manufacturing, construction etc.), you will use specific to the industry tools to calculate how many people of each expertise (testers, developers, engineers etc.) you’ll require.
Each type of industry has its nuances for establishing the optimal number. For example in IT world it is mostly based on previous experiences in similar projects, while in manufacturing, calculations of throughput and demand will provide the answer. As reviewing these numerous tools is not the subject of this discussion, what is important to take away here is that Team’s Strength is how big your team is. To hold big muscles a body needs a strong skeleton, altogether with joints and ligaments, which brings us to our next parameter.
Team’s Agility is all about flexibility, ability to react promptly, re-group and adjust to new circumstances, without compromising the basic structure and the results it provides. Needless to say, in today’s world that is probably one of the most important parameters for survival. The need to react quickly to changes provoked many new approaches such as Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean, Just in Time, Kanban, Demand Flow Technology and many others that deserve to be mentioned but will not be, as it would take forever :-).
There are two main methods to acquire agility in your team. The first is by having flexible, but strong structure (skeleton) and the second by being able to “mix and match”. Flexible structure means that no matter what new project or methodology will come tomorrow (I’m sure many of you in IT world have been experiencing for a while the clash of Waterfall and Agile) the team will be able to get into new formation to fit new the approach with minimal losses. To accomplish that, manager needs to ensure that all the crucial roles are defined and staffed. Off course, each industry will have its own perfect set of roles that I’ll explore in latter posts. The other important principle is “Mix and match”, and it relates to ability of the team members to exchange hats when needed (for example team lead as developer, quality assurance analyst as system analyst). In manufacturing, one of the lean methods is to educate each of the workers on the activities that are prior and following to his place in the production line. Having said that, we don’t want to create a team of Jacks that know it all and are masters of nothing, however in a stress situation “exchanging hats” for a limited period of time will allow continuity of performance and many times will save the day.
Team’s Endurance is actually for how long the team can take the heat. While strength is how much you can pull up, endurance is for how long you can continue doing it. Wearing off due to friction is a basic trait of physical reality and it’s a pity to see people needlessly burning out on projects time after time. To prevent breakdowns it is important to know the predisposition of each team member and to navigate accordingly. Some people perform better under stress, while others do not at all. That is only human and does not reflect on the professionalism of the person (unless coping with stressful situation is a part of the job, such as surgeon, pilot… and manager).
Endurance can be trained, for example by gradually delegating more tasks to the employee until reaching the required level. This should be done with awareness of the timetable and not interrupted as result of sudden urgency. Another way to enhance endurance is by assigning tasks that vary in size. Participants of a long term project might start feeling frustrated not seeing any tangible results of their work, so giving them shorter-term tasks will provide encouragement by satisfying the sense of accomplishment. It is important to state here that endurance is also strongly dependent on team’s ability to work together. This is best achieved by building in-team communication. Clear and respectful communication between the team members develops strong bonds of loyalty to the team, which, in their turn, can take performance to another level.
Spirit is the ambience your team is working in on a daily basis. To build strong team spirit takes character and perseverance from the manager, as manager’s dedication to a team is not unlike dedication to a family. At first sight one might say that atmosphere is being established through invisible channels that cannot be influenced directly; however very tangible guidelines can be applied to induce a higher moral state of the team. One is consistency in messages, constant frequency of any team-related activities, open information sharing even if the news are not always shiny, that will contribute to the sense of confidence and security in the team (as opposed to employees who have to feed on rumors to know what’s going on). Another one is acknowledgement of accomplishments and efforts of the employees. It is as easy to perform, as it is easy to forget. So, never forget to recognize the efforts being put into achieving a common goal on individual and team levels. And, finally, the third guideline – team development has to be performed systematically. Essentially any development plan presented to the team contributes to the feeling of common future. As long as team members can picture themselves working in the team a year from today, their spirit is strong and challenges will be met with heads kept high.
To what extent to develop each of the parameters is up to you. Some will prefer a bigger team to tackle bigger projects and others will go for a smaller team, which would be quick to adjust and maneuver between goals. There is no absolute truth here; each mission, considering its nature, will require its own perfect team and it is the manager’s toughest task to find the perfect balance of parameters listed above. Take a look at your team and try to see where it stands in each of these facets. I would love to hear out your experiences.