The three measures for team effectiveness. However…

I suggest there are only three measures leaders should examine when considering a team’s effectiveness. However, read to the end to understand the dangers of measuring team effectiveness.

  1. The team’s track record of delivering outcomes that addresses user/client/stakeholder needs. This is the ultimate arbiter of team effectiveness. Emphasis: Building the right thing
  2. The typical time it takes for the team to start working towards an outcome, to the point the outcome has been achieved. In other words the cycle-time.  Emphasis: Building the thing fast
  3. Particularly if it’s a software team, their level of tech debt. This allows leaders to understand the team’s ability to deliver further business outcomes. Emphasis: Building the thing right

Considering any more measurements will run the risk that leaders get blinded by proxy information, and risks them misjudging the team.

Of course, the team are at liberty to consider other information. However, this should just be for the team to interpret and make use of.

Even these three measures could lead to misjudgement. Therefore I suggest leaders should be coached in how to interpret this information, and be cautioned in how it could be misinterpreted.

Trading-off the emphasises

There’s a trade-off between the emphasises of building the right outcome, building it fast, and building the thing right. Leaders should work closely with the team to ensure these trade-offs are appropriately balanced.

The balance should reflect the current and future state of product/service/process development.

However…..

…..conversations and co-creation are better than managing by measurements

Consider what Einstein is attributed to have said:

Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted

If leaders only use measurements to judge a team’s effectiveness, there’s a temptation to manage the team indirectly. There’s also a dangerous possibility of misjudging the team.

Ideally, the leadership team should create a structure and set of processes which allows them to have meaningful conversations with the team. Leaders should involve themselves with the team to co-create and co-discover the best outcomes for their customers/clients/stakeholders.

Such an environment will outcompete any alternative where the leaders manage indirectly, provide little direct support and manage by measurements alone.

If measurements are being considered, leaders and the team should discuss and agree on the intention behind for measurements. It’s likely unintended behaviours and incentives will emerge, so with the team, measurements and its impact should be reviewed periodically.

When it an outcome achieved?

Mike Burrows’ Definitions of Done helps teams focused on, and be measured by, their effectiveness at delivering genuine business outcomes.

An outcome is not achieved if it’s at a stage before users/clients/stakeholders are demonstrably benefiting from it.

Further reading and thanks

Feedback is welcome.

RUDE – Estimate more than team effort

RUDE is a handy mnemonic for estimating the work needed to deliver its intended outcome(s).

It stands for Risks, Uncertainties, Dependencies, Effort.

It reminds teams that when estimating work, they need to consider more than the effort needed to deliver the work.

FACTOR DESCRIPTION
Risks Consider the likelihood and impact of known aspects that, if they come true, will threaten the work or its outcome(s). Such aspects can be managed.
Uncertainties What unknowns could there be?
How unfamiliar is this work?
Amongst stakeholders, how acceptable is the work and its outcome(s)?
Early in the project, such factors are likely to be unpredictable.
Dependencies Who, and what, is the team depend upon to deliver the outcome(s). The greater the dependencies the greater the complexity.
Effort Estimated time and energy needed by the team to deliver the outcome(s).

This is separate from the effort of other parties who are needed to deliver the outcome(s), but should include the team’s effort to liaise with those parties.

Sizing work items

Teams may want to use Fibonacci estimation to size work items relevant to each other.

Note that two work items may be of the same size for different reasons.

For example, a work item may need little team effort but have high dependencies, whereas another work item – of the same size – may need lots of team effort but have no dependencies beyond the team.

Example – Project to build a house extension

The Goal

Your family would like a house extension built. Consider the family as the project team.

Risks

There could be known aspects which threaten the extension. For example, it may be known that it needs to be built on land prone to subsidence.

Uncertainties

This might be the first time the family is having a house extension built. So, for them, there are many unknowns.

The extension’s design will be subject to the agreement of local authorities, building regulations and your neighbours’ consent. Consider these parties as stakeholders.

Regarding the work itself, you may need to gain permission to access your neighbour’s land.

At the start of the project, stakeholders’ responses are likely to be unpredictable.

Dependencies

What specialists are needed to build a house extension? Has your team and the various specialists worked together before?

Effort

How much time and energy do you and your family estimate will be needed to manage the house extension project?

Related reading

Risk vs Uncertainty in Project Management

Circles of influence and control – An issue management technique

The problem

Teams often find it hard to capture and visualise risks and issues in a way which allows the team, their stakeholders and leaders to clearly understand who needs to provide help.

The team’s goals will be threatened if captured risks and issues are inaccessible and hard to decipher.

The solution

To help teams communicate with stakeholders and leaders where the team needs specific help, I’ve created a technique called Circles of Influence & Control.

The technique uses visual management to show the degree of influence and control the team has over each risk or issue. Stakeholders and leaders can easily see where the team needs support.

It also encourages the team to understand what they have control over and immediately take steps to resolve the risk or issue.

Instructions

Setup

  1. Draw three concentric circles
  2. Label the inner circle “In our control”
  3. Label the middle circle “Some influence”
  4. Label the outer circle “No, or very little, influence

POPULATINg

Using post-it notes, the team should add risks, issues, blockers into the appropriate circles

actions and responsibilities

The team should plan how to resolve, own, accept, mitigate or escalate each item. This should be done with the appropriate stakeholders and leaders so they know how to help the team.

Once populated the team should focus energy on the inner circle of items since they have control of those items. The team should also focus attention on the middle circle of items since they have a degree of influence.

The stakeholders and the leadership team should pay particular focus on the outer circle since these are items the team have little or no influence to address.

Tips

  • Team members can update these circles at any time
  • The team can review, manage and escalate items on a regular basis
  • Different colour post-it notes can be used to denote how long items have been present

Examples

Red Team technique – strengthen ideas through challenge & criticism

The problem

We sometimes find it hard to challenge and critique an idea or a way of working. Many of us are naturally hesitant and would rather not upset someone or undermine someone else’s work.

However, this avoidance misses opportunities to strengthen our colleague’s work before unquestioned commitments are made.

The solution

To address this I’ve created the Red Team technique. The Red Team technique gives people permission to criticise and pull-apart their colleague’s idea.

Red Team members are temporarily given this permission to act in this manner – typically for 10 to 15 minutes.

A Red Team is typically between 2 and 5 people.

How to do it

  1. Sit those proposing the idea with the Red Team members
  2. Ideally, there should also be a facilitator
  3. Those proposing the idea should present their idea succinctly
  4. The Red Team members should then respond stating their questions, challenges, and criticisms

Recommendations

1. How to respond to the Red Team

Those presenting their idea should state their proposal, answer any clarifying questions, listen to the criticism, but not respond in any other way.

The Red Team’s criticisms should be noted and later used to strengthen the proposal. The proposing team could then have their improved proposal challenged by a different Red Team.

2. Things the Red Team should consider when criticising

As well as using SMART criteria, the Red Team should consider criticising an idea based on the values of their team or organisation, such the value of action before perfection.

3. When to form a Red Team

The proposing team could schedule the Red Team exercise, or they can be more impromptu and seek volunteers to form a Red Team with little notice.

4. Who should be on the Red Team

Obviously, the Red Team shouldn’t include those working on the idea.

So the Red Team can have a degree of naivety and curiosity, I recommend they don’t know too much about the idea. Neither should the Red Team have the same understanding of the problem domain as those presenting the idea.

A Red Team members should act like a critical friend.

A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work. – Desmond Nuttall

In summary

What is a Red Team

An independent group formed temporarily to challenge an idea, approach or an understanding.

Why use the Red Team technique

It helps to strengthen propositions by testing assumptions and exploring alternatives.

Related Reading

  • A powerful method, but needs more set-up and facilitation: Ritual Dissent from Cognitive Edge
  • Thoughtful Disagreement developed by Ray Dalio
  • Troika Consulting: A Liberating Structures technique which helps people gain insight on issues they face and unleash local wisdom for addressing them

Training exercise

I have a training exercise that can be used to introduce the Red Team technique. Contact me if you’d like to learn about it.