howto management high performance teams develop

HOW TO : Data Driven approach towards building a high performance team

One of the virtues of a high performance team is that they take the time to fix “problems” and allocate energy to improving themselves. And we also know that most of the people we speak with say “they are overloaded” and cannot complete their day job itself. Forgot about spending that extra time to fix “problem”. So how does one develop a team that can not only do their day job but continue to improvise? Here is a game plan, I developed over the last few years that I have been managing people. It is data driven, and while it is not perfect, it helps out :). And the only tool I use is a simple spreadsheet.

STEP 1 : The beginning

Evaluate (make a list of) the services being offered by the team. You need to have an good understanding of what your team is providing to your customers. This will not only help you understand what is critical, but also provides insight into services you can cut (not your core competency). This is how stage 1 looks like in the spreadsheet. 

STEP 2 : Identify the SME

Now that you know what services are being offered by the team, identify a SME (Subject Matter Expert) for each service. This is the guy/gal that knows this area in an out. If you don’t have a SME, take a resource that you know has the potential and make them the SME. Once I identify the SME, I make it very clear to them that they own that particular area and the entire team depends on them for support. This helps in creating ownership and professional pride. At this stage the spreadsheet looks like this 

STEP 3 : Backup

Things get interesting from here. You know what you are offering and you have a SME for each of those offerings. If you get to this stage, you are probably already better than 50% of the workforce (note : This is my personal statistic :).. ). At this point, I speak with the SME and give them a simple task.

    • Document the top 3 things you do on a regular basis.
    • Identify someone from your team that you would like to make as your backup. Train them on the top 3 things.

With the backups in place, my team is probably better than 75% of the workforce. Not only do we have a SME, but we have a backup to them. I think it is futile to have the backup resource know everything about a particular service offerings. There are always going to be SMEs and no matter how hard you try there will be some knowledge that is never going to get transferred (willingly or unwillingly). That’s the reason, I concentrate on the most common activities. The spreadsheet keeps evolving :). 

STEP 4 : Nirvana (Backup to the Backup)

This is where you start to become a high performance team. Have the SME and the backup identify another resource in the team to be added to their “group”. If the SME has documented the top 3 activities and trained his backup by now, I ask him/her to document the next 3 activities and train both the backup resources. At this stage, you will start to notice something amazing

    • You team will have time to fix “problems”. Because the SME is not just firefighting all the time. She has a group to fight the fire with. Which means she will get time to fix the root cause.
    • The group starts to improve the service offerings. Again, because they are a group and start taking pride in the services they own.
    • People can go on vacation and not worry about what is happening to their babies (work 🙂 ).
    • You as the manager will start seeing areas and resources that are not optimized. i.e. services not having enough backup, resources being stretched across multiple services. This gives me the chance to fix these shortcomings. And I can go to my boss with the data.

If you have come to this stage, consider yourself a hero :). As the Marines say, you have joined the ranks of “The Few and the Proud” 🙂 . By now the spreadsheet gets pretty colorful. 

Based on the size of your team, you can continue to add backups to the SME. I try to get to a state where the entire team can do 70% of the activities and we need a SME for only 30% of the activities. Why this 70/30 ratio? Because I think that is an easily achievable (but not something most of the teams do) target and anything over that is counterproductive. i.e. you are trying to get the SME spend so much time to share the last 30% percent that they might not have time for the original reason for setting up the backups (i.e. to give time to the SMEs to improve the services).

Any suggestions on improving this?