Fast Team Fundamentals: Is Your Team Successful? How Do You Know?

March 11, 2011 3Circle Partners

By Anton McBurnie

The first of this two-part series looks at the challenge of qualifying team success and suggests a more systemic approach to measuring it. For the second part we invite your input so that we can share real life examples of how you have been able to define and measure the success of teams in your own organizations.

If you believe teams are the prime work unit of organizations then the answers to the above questions matter, and alarmingly, given two current trends we observe the typical answers are “Not Really!” and “We don’t!”


Trend 1: People are on an increasing number of teams – I frequently hear that over the prior 12 month period most people have on average been part of 5 or 6 teams, with a significant number on 10 or more.

Trend 2: The number of these teams that the individuals considered to have been successful? – Rarely more than 5%!

While the above trends are based on informal surveys, they are broadly consistent with our own observations of team performance and match the impressions of many executives we have worked with.

So how do you measure the “success” of a team?

The simple answer “Show Me The Money” or short-term ROI is tempting but dangerous – the examples of teams achieving short-term $$ metrics that left significant long-term problems and high lost opportunity costs are all too frequent. Another variant of simple, but dangerous, success measures seen in organizations with a more “fire-fighting” culture, are where a team is tasked to “just fix the problem!”. Members of these teams often report feeling pressured to come up with quick, temporary solutions to complex problems that they know may aggravate the situation in the long-term and which leaves them feeling frustrated, disillusioned and helpless.

Here lies the challenge; it is both difficult and ambiguous to really measure how a team is performing. However, just because something is difficult to measure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. As my colleague, Max Isaac, succinctly stated in a recent client discussion “Figuring out how to deal with ambiguity is the essence of leadership”. Leaders and teams need a more systemic approach to measuring their success

Most of the more straightforward metrics currently used relate to dollar-amounts, efficiencies achieved or milestones attained and are therefore measuring how effectively a team’s execution is related to a project, goal or strategy. Make no mistake they are necessary, indeed vital but just not sufficient to measure the complexity of the situation most teams face.

For a more complete picture, it is necessary to look at the underlying framework, or the 3Circles™ of a successful team.

(From: The Third Circle, Interactions That Drive Results).

Real success requires not only superior execution but also a sound strategy. These can only be realized with effective interaction: the often-overlooked third circle. So a gauge of overall team performance needs measures in each of these 3Circles™: Execution, Strategy and Interaction.

Execution – Did the team get the work outputs done on time, on budget, and achieve the goals as stated?

Setting SMART measures in the execution circle is rarely a problem, particularly with more teams benefiting from the discipline of current processes like Lean, Six Sigma or Agile. What I notice however, maybe because these metrics are relatively easy to establish, is that they are often set before the strategy has been fully developed.

Strategy – Although execution metrics should come from strategy, many teams spend a surprisingly short amount of time getting clarity and alignment in this area.

The challenge with measuring success in the strategy circle is usually centered on problems of communication and alignment. The frenzied rush of the annual budget cycle often results in the high-level strategy and goals being imposed rather than communicated, and with inadequate time or process to get alignment or buy in down the organization. A number of organizations are starting to use software-based approaches e.g. Success Factors Business Execution software or Ozone Performance Management software. These can help measure the gaps between strategy and execution, as well as showing the alignment of teams and leaders up and down the organization.

The good news is that even a few hours invested by a team in clarifying their mission and purpose can create clearer alignment and stronger buy-in even when the goals may have been “handed down from above”

Interaction – Success metrics in the interaction circle are inherently difficult to define, primarily due to their more subjective nature. Unfortunately since teams always identify the interaction circle as the origin of most of their issues, “difficult” is definitely not an excuse not to try!

So let’s start from the approach that success in this area is very much in the eye of the beholder. For example, even if a team has an agreed upon conflict-resolution mechanism, the actual success metric is not the presence or absence of the mechanism but whether the team members believe conflict is or isn’t being resolved.

The answer to the question “If given the choice, would you want to stay on this team?” is often cited as a good general measure on interaction, but again it depends on the organization. In a culture where people are “assigned” to the teams they must work on, it is of limited value. But as I learned on a recent visit to Google headquarters, their engineers absolutely have the right to leave a project team if they are not happy, without fear of reprisal; in this case it becomes a far more valuable interaction measure.

So it turns out that even an imperfect and subjective measure of interaction success, used consistently over time, can give useful data and provide a relative comparison of performance.

Following this “imperfect but useful” logic, we developed the Team Accelerator Index as a subjective measure of the following aspects of a team’s performance:
 

 

  • Goal Setting & Alignment
  • Planning Team Processes
  • Assigning Responsibility
  • Discovery of Data
  • Handling Conflict & Making Decisions
  • Learning & Feedback

(Click here to download the TA Index.)

We have been using the Team Accelerator Index for a number of years to benchmark and track both the performance of workshop teams in a learning environment and also functional or project teams in their real work environment.

In our Team Accelerator Phase 1 workshop, the workshop teams rate themselves after the 1st scored exercise. Next the teams go through an intense, experiential period of learning and further scored exercises and then rate themselves again after the 4th and final exercise, their scores generally improve significantly.

Three to six months later the real functional or project teams now participate in the Team Accelerator Phase 2 workshop, to translate the learning gained in the first session into a concrete set of understandings and ground-rules that are applicable to their particular situation. During the Phase 2 session they again use the Team Accelerator Index to benchmark their current real world performance and they are usually very aware that they have defaulted back to their old norms. This is a powerful illustration of how high performance teamwork is not a single event, but a structured ongoing process

The following table shows the typical results we have found over the last 5 years and interestingly enough they vary very little between companies, industries or levels of the organization. All scores are out of 30 points.

If you would like to try this out on your own team, click here to download the Team Accelerator Index spreadsheet.

For the second article in this series I invite your input so that we can share real life examples of how you have been able to define and measure the success of teams in your own organizations.

Specifically:
1. We would like to invite you to do the Team Accelerator Index on your own team and send us the results.
2. How do you measure your team’s success? – please send us your examples in all or any of the 3Circles™. We will select the best responses and feature these in the next article.

If you’re interested in finding out more:

Contact Us.

contact-phone Call us toll-free in North America at 877.333.3606 or phone us at 416.483.7380.

contact-email Email us at info@3circlepartners.com.

About the Author

3Circle Partners

We believe creating an effective organization requires a scientifically based, data-driven approach. As industry leaders in team development and leadership consulting, we work with some of the world’s most successful organizations—including many Fortune 500 companies—to improve performance through a specialized focus on interaction. We call this Team Acceleration®.

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