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Let me explain my triangle

They say every leader needs a “triangle” of sorts that quantifies their style or belief. While I do not currently serve in an official leader capacity, here’s my preemptive triangle that typifies the kind of team I want to build. Disclaimer: I have read a number of books and articles so what you see here may not be considered “original” or completely my own, but merely an amalgamation of existing concepts put together in a Sam-like way (isn’t that what innovation is?). However, what follows is how I interpret/prioritize everything I have read up to this point in time.

Ok, with that out of the way, here’s my triangle:

And what follows is an explanation of each part:

High Performing: I want to build a high performing team. A team that as an entire unit can deliver value at a sustainable pace. Now, you might be wondering, what manager would not want a high performing team? I believe that verbally no leader would admit to wanting a low performing team. However, a leader’s actions can communicate such a sentiment. To build a high performing team, I need to find (or at least convert) people into adopting a desire of achieving more. A few ways I would tackle this objective include:

  1. Building and communicating an enticing yet possible vision (current un-reality). Keeping the big picture in mind causes individuals to work towards a larger (than life?) goal.
  2. Fostering an environment that encourages high performance. This comes down to choosing the right people – the people that achieve more or desire to achieve more. What do I do when choosing the right people falls outside of my domain? Well that’s a future post.
  3. Utilizing positive reinforcement to cement desirable behaviors. With the current book I’m reading (Bringing out the best in people – stay tuned for a review), I am learning that default solutions can cause more harm than good. Identifying which rewards to tie to specific behaviors becomes crucial in making high performance a desire to achieve, not a bar that’s unreachable.
  4. Internalizing an agile mindset. Let me be clear, I’m not saying do Scrum ceremonies and call it a day. I’m referring to internalizing the agile principles (think step above Scrum/XP etc) so that as a team we can properly handle changes but remain structured in a way that emphasizes results over ideas.

Cross Functional: A cross functional team consists of individuals that have a competent level of understanding for each of the other team members. For example, in a team where some specialize in tests, some in analysis, and some in development, I would expect the test specialists to have a basic understanding of the development and analysis portions, and so on. To put it succinctly, I will work to build a team of generalists instead of specialists. I do not expect knowledge parity among all members for any team I choose to build, but I do expect a minimum level of understanding to be met. At first glance this implies that I want a team where each member feels dispensable. And to a certain point, yes. But not for the sake of belittling. We fail to acknowledge last minute changes of a personal level, or the fact that not everyone on the team will stick around forever. Should some emergency arise, a more cross functional team can better handle it as opposed to work stopping entirely due to absent people. This principle works in conjunction with becoming a high performing team. How would I build cross functionality?

  1. Make it clear from the beginning that cross functionality is desired and expected. I am ok if incoming people are not very cross functional, but they must be willing to adapt. Putting your foot down and saying, “I only want to do this period” will not help. While I acknowledge that each role is best suited for each type of person (aka developers do not want to document, BAs do), if a situation should arise I would expect the developer to be competent in documentation to help out in an emergency situation. Being clear from the beginning will indicate whether the person is a good fit for the team, or vice versa.
  2. Expose all individuals to each part of the cycle. Whatever the team is responsible for ensuring, I want to make sure that everyone continues to have exposure to each part of the workflow.
  3. Continually monitor the type of work each person may be working on to identify any “pigeonholing.” This definitely requires greater involvement for a leader, but making sure no one feels like they are at a dead end. Exposure to variety (if it exists on your team) sometimes requires intentional effort on a leader’s part to increase cross functionality.

Self Organizing: To an extent, this tenet takes some of the “leadership” out of the “leader” and brings it up to the team level. A self organizing team can take responsibility where necessary without being told how to. It requires adaptability and shared responsibility on each team member’s part to bring order and establish a consistent approach for getting work done. When this tenet becomes the team’s responsibility, a leader is less exhausted, teams will have bought into a large vision, and the collective maturity allows our brainpower to focus on higher level problems. This is perhaps the hardest of the three to implement, and in my opinion, the first to be tackled. A self organizing team can increase cross functionality leading to high performance. What are some ideas I will use to encourage self organizing?

  1. Positively reinforce current self organizing actions. When a subset of the team or the team itself takes initiative to solve a problem, reward them! Google ads was born because Larry Page posted on a white board the irrelevancy of ads to the search he executed, and a group of people saw it, self organized, and delivered a solution during the weekend.
  2. Be an example: Sharing (in a humbling, not condescending way) how I have taken action with others to solve problems I see.
  3. Track benefits of self organizing actions to boost morale and provide evidence that this will indeed benefit the team.

Before writing this off as an utopian ideal that can never be accomplished, know that I will always aim for the highest ideal. Unreal? Sure, currently. But dismissing this as out of reach only means that some other competitor may feel differently and out-innovate you.

I also acknowledge that rarely will I walk into an environment where all three factors are perfectly implemented. This triangle represents what I will work towards. Any changes I implement will be based on one of these factors.

Finally, you may ask where “trust” comes in. After all, a team that does not trust each other will not self organize, aim for greater cross functionality, or be high performing. I believe trust fits into the middle somewhere. It permeates every factor, therefore, I could not separate it on its own. If anything, all factors lead up to a higher level – trust.

Now you know what kind of team I will build when the opportunity arises!