Supporting People

Now you have your team, you need to keep them happy and productive and ensure they are constantly improving, increasing in value.

Equipment & Tools

Firstly, the obvious, you need to ensure your team have everything they need to do their jobs. That means decent computers, a fast internet connection, and comfortable seating so that everyone can participate easily. What else? Paper and pens for sketching out ideas. Accessible whiteboards and Kanban boards for planning and project management. Internal communication and planning tools, online service subscriptions, and secure code repositories. Servers for development and testing environments, perhaps others for showing to remote clients or stakeholders. It all adds up, but it’s all necessary.

Time

Even if you have a huge, looming project deadlines, it’s crucial that your team is resourced not just with adequate equipment but also with time. The web is moving forward at an astonishing pace and it takes a great deal of time for web professionals to stay on top of the latest tools, techniques, and best practice. We need time to research, study, and practice. We need to be able to experiment and make mistakes.

It’s always apparent in the final product when the team has been rushed to finish a project, hasn’t had the time to properly learn about the technology they’ve applied, or have implemented something inappropriate because they lacked the time to learn about the potential alternatives. The design becomes inconsistent and the code becomes messy and difficult to manage.

The best way to learn is through practice and so side projects should be encouraged and time should be allocated for people to work on them. Whatever they learn will be a valuable skill that your organisation can apply, while it also rewards the team with independence and creative freedom. They may even build something that you can use or market to clients or investors. Google, for instance, encourages all employees spend 20% of their time working on side projects that could potentially benefit the company; some such projects turned out to be Gmail and Adsense, two of the company’s most famous and most profitable. Maybe set aside Friday afternoons, when everyone is winding down for the weekend, for side projects and training? Rather than wasting time not working on direct income-generating projects it may prove invaluable.

Feedback

Just as you want to know what the project owners think about the work you produce, your team wants to know what you think about the work they produce. After all, how can they improve their work without qualified feedback? Providing feedback not only helps people focus their learning activities and consider more their own performance, it also makes them feel valued. It shows them that you are interested in their performance and you want to invest in their improvement.

Of course, feedback does need to be structured. Start off with a job description or an explicit list of expectations in terms of tasks and responsibilities. Use the job description to asses how the person is performing those tasks and undertaking those responsibilities. If you are not in a position to assess every aspect of the person’s performance, then delegate to somebody who is; for example, code reviews should be done by someone who has at least an equal understanding of the code the person has written. Also consider what practical advice you may be able to give the person in order to improve their performance, even if they are already outstanding.

It’s important to remember that performance reviews are for the team member and not for you, and the person being reviewed needs to know that. They should be made to feel comfortable and relaxed, not like they’re the target of a pogrom or communist-style self-criticism. Make it clear from the start upon hiring people that there will be performance reviews. Also keep performance reviews on a fixed schedule so that they become normalised and expected. As well as letting them know your opinion of their performance, you can make them more comfortable by encouraging them to review you and the organisation as a whole. What to they enjoy? What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What improvement suggestions do they have? Depending on your team you may want to gather feedback anonymously somehow, but by doing it in person it make the process more two-way, more interactive, and empowers people by making them aware that they are a valued member of the team who potentially has a say over how their organisation is run. This is a great opportunity for you to gather new ideas to improve your organisation’s overall happiness and performance.

This is also your perfect opportunity to have a one-to-one conversation with each team member and really get to know them. What are their personal interests, what motivates them? This will help you connect with them on a more personal level, planting mutual trust.

Unfortunately, not all team members are going to perform well all the time. Take into account that people’s personal lives, even the time of day or the season, may have temporary a impact on their performance. If you are really unsatisfied with someone’s work, then you need to let them know and give them a chance to either explain, improve, or leave. They may be a great designer or developer or project manager but maybe your organisation is just not right for them. When making recommendations for improvement, be specific about what you expect to see and by when. These are always awkward conversations to have and you’ll need to be delicate in your approach. You want to remind them that by the very fact of having this conversation, you are confident that they can improve and that issues can be resolved. You have invested in them and you want to help them.

If you are absolutely convinced someone cannot improve, are not making the effort, or have ignored advice from previous conversations, then you have to let them go. A weak team member brings down the whole team and you cannot afford anything detrimental to the success of your strongest members.