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The Secret Sauce to a Hyper-Productive Team

April 4th, 2010 No comments

As I travel from city to city working with various teams from a wide range of industries, I have noticed some commonalities in the dynamics present in these teams.  Some of these teams represent those that I feel a deep sense of compassion for…ones that are lacking inspired direction, lacking enthusiasm, lacking a sincere desire to produce a product above and beyond the gathered specs, teams drowning amidst a sea of corporate culture that does not seek to produce the best product, but rather satisfy the demands of its own structure.  Then there are those teams that seem to possess a magical quality where they can accomplish anything, overcome any obstacle, and are adept at creating the right amount and type of team culture that supports their objectives.

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Seeing this huge gap between team types begs the obvious question, what is the difference between the teams?  Is it company size? No. Is it the industry?  Nope, seen great teams in every industry including DoD, government, tech, and finance. Is it the goodies provided for free in the kitchen?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.

So what is the secret sauce of these hyper-productive teams?

As you might guess, it is not any one thing, but a combination of many different factors that all support the single-headed direction to support the creation and continued operation of a highly productive team.  So what are the ingredients?  Here is my unscientific, and definitely un-exhaustive list:

  1. Great people.
    We cannot pretend that only process matters.  Spend any amount of time digging into great teams and you are likely to find a fair number of great people, people that would be great on any team.  Get enough of them together and you have a good shot at a great team.
  2. Organizational culture supportive of making mistakes in pursuit of greater return results.
    Teams that are comfortable at making mistakes often find that they also produce extraordinary results.  True success is often comprised of multiple failed efforts that did not sink the team, but rather allowed the team to learn things they could not have learned otherwise.  Working within a corporate culture that recognizes this is a key component to super teams.
  3. True team based delivery culture (which means this is also taken into account during things like individual’s annual reviews.)
    Teams that recognize that we are not simply individuals working in close proximity, but a team where we must all be engaged with one another’s work.  I tell teams looking to achieve amazing results that each member of the team must care as much about their neighbor’s work as they do their own.
  4. Team members that share a sense of purpose, vision, and passion for their work.
    If team members believe that they are contributing to something greater than their individual part, then they will care at a much greater level than their individual contribution.  Work to ensure that a team can share this vision and goals begin to shape themselves.  Better yet, teams begin to manage their own incremental improvement, otherwise know as the team holy grail.
  5. A company that cares as much (if not more) about their employees as they do about their customers.
    At the base of it all, we must feel appreciated at our place of work, or we may not be able to cobble together the above components.  Companies that treat their employees as commodities will likely only experience amazing, hyper-productive teams sporadically, rather than as a expected result of a team-based product development environment.

[Let me state clearly, this list could likely be much, much longer, so please feel free to add to it in the comments. Whole books can, and have, been written on the subject.]

A the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states “any system development activity inevitably changes the environment  out of which the need for the system arose” so true is it that any team activity will likely change the culture out of which it was born.  Corporate culture, although seemingly unchangeable when our teams operate seemingly at its mercy, is always in flux, as this cultural effect evolved not from proclaimed edict, but the work done by teams and the resulting response from the company in which they operate.  Changing this culture to enable and encourage hyper-productive teams is a joint effort from the great team that seeks to produce extraordinary results and the company that chooses to support the behavior that these teams exhibit.  Although it sounds like an easy choice for companies to make, you would be surprised just how often I encounter organizations that seem to want to thwart these great teams.

Have you had the pleasure of working on a team that was hyper-productive?  One that truly exemplified the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts?  What was the secret that you found to be the linchpin to success?  Did you notice that happy teams produce better results?  Did you notice that teams that have fun together are able to more easily maneuver around obstacles that might otherwise sink an average team?  I hope so, because it is these experiences that will continue to push me to better define what those magical, secret ingredients are for those teams that define what it truly means to get work done.  And as my friend Rod Behbood says, “Do Work Son.”

Happy Easter everyone!

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