Over the last 30 years at work, I have observed many re-structures. Some I was part of. Some I created. Some worked. Some didn’t. And some created only marginal benefits. Others – in more recent years – were truly transformational and catapulted team performance to a whole new level.
I have always been fascinated by management and leadership and how to get the very best from a group of people. I have read a lot of books on the subject. I have studied a bit of psychology. And I now have more than quarter of a Century of observation, experimentation and preoccupation with how to create high performance teams.
As a result of all this learning, I have now formed strong views about what I think works the best. About what I think creates the best teams. Teams that create the best quality. The most adaptable, innovative teams. And the fastest teams.
I have tried to distil that 30 years experience into a brief set of principles that I feel really strongly about, regardless of specific context. I’ve come up with 7 principles to create the FASTEST teams. Here they are:
- Focused & Flexible
Here’s a brief explanation of each one…
Focused & Flexible. By focused, I mean 100% dedicated to a single, common purpose, i.e. one team, one goal. By flexible, I mean not too hung up on job titles and job descriptions and roles are not over-specialised. I might specialise in X so I’d rather be doing that most of the time, but I am happy to do anything that helps my team to achieve its goal.
Autonomous. By autonomous, I mean that the team ideally has control of their own destiny, from idea to value, with minimum or no reliance on other teams. The team is complete and truly empowered. This is hard to achieve in a larger organisation, but it is worth striving for, as it may be the single biggest factor in creating high performance teams.
Small. Research suggests that the optimum team size for interdependent work is 5-12 people. I would agree with this, but I would go for the smaller end whenever possible. Minimising specialists helps to keep teams, and the overhead of each team, small.
Talented. Over the years, I have seen many managers speak about recruitment, retention and performance management as a chore. But we are in the people business, so this is not a chore, it is one of the most fundamental aspects of creating a high performance team. Give recruitment the energy it deserves and be very selective. Actively focus on how to retain your best talent. And actively manage the weaknesses in your teams – either through more support and training, finding a more suitable role, or ultimately by managing them out. Give your teams the opportunity to develop their skills and help them to master their chosen discipline.
Established. There is no team like an established team. I believe there is immense value in creating persistent teams that are long-lasting. In a project environment, this means feeding work or projects to established teams, rather than forming new teams around projects as they start up. The key benefits of established teams are that they’ve already been through their storming phase and learnt how to work effectively together, they’ve optimised their processes, and they know their capacity.
Stable. It’s related to the point above, but once a team is established, try to keep it stable, instead of chopping and changing and the constant resource contention and delays that come from ever-changing team members or unpredictable availability. Ramping up and ramping down are disruptive.
Together. This is the simplest principle of all, but often it’s not simple in an existing organisation where functional teams have sprung up in different locations. Now reorganising the teams isn’t just about the structure of reporting lines and seating arrangements, it’s also about relocating people and that’s not easy. There may be economic or other reasons for not co-locating people, but if at all possible, sit people close together.
Apart from minimising distraction and coordination and therefore reducing delays and bottlenecks, the above principles also speak directly to Dan Pink’s intrinsic motivators: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. These are the things that really inspire people from within, beyond money for food and shelter and other necessities like that.
In all my experience, I have seen time and time again that these principles are extremely powerful. I really believe that these are the main factors in creating high performance teams, at least in terms of structure. Other than that, just add Inspirational Leadership to inspire and motivate the team and you’ll have something very special.
Having said all of that, in a large organisation I recognise these points can be hard to achieve. But then there are other cases where I’ve seen these things could be achieved and they aren’t.
Whenever I’ve had control of the structure, I have focused a lot of my energy and determination on striving for these ideals and getting these things in place, however painful it was. And it really paid off.