The Secret to Building a High Performance Team - why innovation!

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The Secret to Building a High Performance Team - why innovation!

Quang Nguyen 3 min
The Secret to Building a High Performance Team
In my career as an Agile coach and software expert, I’ve worked with over 100 different teams. With most of them, I felt that we worked very well together and achieved a lot. However, there were a number of teams that just couldn’t get going, and we really struggled to get work done – which puzzled me, especially given my belief in Agile practices.
 
What were the differences between these two types of teams? After struggling with some under-performing teams, I spent some time to reflect and talk to different people to understand why. I found one secret that magically turned my team from suffering to a high performing one. Do you want to know what that secret is?
The Secret is: High-performing teams cater for diversity of working styles, over adhering to norms.

​Let’s say you work together with Annie and Joe. You may find that Annie prefers to work early in the morning, who usually finishes her work early and has some spare time in the evening. You may find that Joe usually comes to work much later in the morning, but finishes his work at around 9pm - of course, he goes to bed very late at night too.
 
Imagine that you give two similar tasks to Annie and Joe, hoping to see results in a week. Straight away, Annie breaks down the task into smaller pieces, makes a plan, and delivers it iteratively. Meanwhile, Joe, feels he has a lot of time and doesn’t need to be in a hurry. He works a little bit every day, and he puts in a huge amount of effort one day before the deadline.
 
Naturally, Joe is the type of person who will find fastest way to complete a task. From time to time you may notice a few bugs in Joe’s work, however there are also times where the team is stuck and Joe is the one that finds the magical shortcut that helps them achieve their goal.
 
You may have come across a situation yourself where people with very similar ways of working are put together into a team. They could work very well together but a team of “Annies” might not often achieve breakout results; and a team of “Joes” may run into quality issues.
 
Having a mix of characteristics in a team is the best setup for success. However, you will need to overcome the challenge of making different people work well together. Here are four tips to make this happen:

Tip#1: Assess the Emotional Intelligence of your team
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According to Daniel Goleman (an American psychologist who helped to popularize the concept of emotional intelligence), there are four main components :
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social-awareness
  • Social-management (or relationship management)
 
Starting with yourself, if you know who you are, how to manage yourself to overcome your weaknesses, and you understand who you are working with to make your relationship better, then you would have more chances to work in a high performance team.
 
There are a few different Emotional Quotient tests which you can perform to help everybody understand their profile and provide advice on how to work with others who are different e.g. Myers-Briggs (despite the negative press, it’s still a good start), Geometrical Psychology, Strengths Finder, etc.

Tip#2: Practice empathy

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Sometimes, you don’t understand why your teammates behave in a certain way. Put yourself into their position before judging them - imagine if you were them, what would you do in that case? Practice soft skills such as active listening, clean language and place a lot of importance on having meaningful conversations during team retrospectives. This is my simplest recommendation, but the one which I find the most effective to help you to help build strong relationships built on respect and trust.

Tip#3: Set ‘core’ and ‘flexible’ working hours

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It is very difficult to make people who are more productive in the mornings to stay behind late in the evening, and vice versa. However, the concept of a team still requires people to commit to working together at some point during the day.
 
Instead of having a fixed working time for everyone, you could suggest your teams have a minimum number of hours of “core” time (assuming an eight hour work-day). This is the time that every member must be in office for face-to-face interactions with each other. The remainder of the time is flexible – for instance, “core hours” could be 11am to 4pm, so that Annie can start her day from 8am and finish at 4pm, and Joe could start from 11am and finish at 7pm.
 
By practicing the concept of “core” time, we can cater to individual needs and also make sure the team has enough time together to get the job done.
 
Tip#4: Align working standards, but start small

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Definition of Done (DoD), coding conventions and “ground rules” are just some of the ways to align a team’s quality standards. However, don’t start with standards which members find challenging to fulfil (some technology stacks, protocols and tools require a steeper learning curve). For easier adoption of these practices, it is better to start with a small “checklist” and then continue to improve progressively according to the team’s capacity.
 
That’s it. Simple, right? Knowing this secret and following these tips have worked pretty well for me in avoiding the struggles of being in an underperforming team. I hope these tips work well for you too – if you have any to add, please feel free to share in the comments!

About the Author
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Quang Nguyen works as a Senior Consultant at why innovation!. He has more than 10 years experience in the Software Development industry. He has worked in eXtreme Programming, Scrum and Kanban environments with multiple Agile roles, from developer, scrum master, product owner, scaled agile product manager to agile coach. His job is about building up an Agile Culture and a Happy Organization. He focuses on three agile levels in the company: Agile at the organization level, team level and at the individual level.
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