Last year I had the chance to work with incredible human beings. Fortunately, I learned a lot with them about a wide range of topics, from business to Kubernetes internals, from psychology to team building, and so many other exciting subjects.
In this article, I’m aiming to share some learnings and to provide a set of tools to level up your game regarding building high performing teams. In 2020 we can do more than just team retros, 1:1s, and think this is enough — I hope you are doing both though.
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My background was built working with engineering teams, but if you are here and come from another area, I’m sure you can pick some of the tips as well.
One of the most critical factors on employee happiness and retention, according to several pieces of research, is the sense of meaning. There are multiple ways to evaluate if there is a connection between the employee and the company, of course, starting with the hiring process. Besides that, one of the tools you can add to your framework is the team canvas, a very straightforward way to create awareness about some variants of the team.
Why this team exists? What is our purpose? What is the impact we can have? These are some questions that can provide clarity to people on how exactly they can shine and focus their energy.
Also, this canvas can be useful to align some other topics as the role of each person, people’s expectations, some general agreements like team ceremonies, communication style, and more.
Performance Metrics and DevOps
For the last years, the DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) provided insightful reports about the state of DevOps, correlating some practices to elite, high, medium, and low performing teams. I highly recommend you to check the full report; there are many practical actions you can apply to your organization. To make your life easier, I wrote some key takeaways from the research.
The report from 2019 brought two models: performance and productivity.
The performance research model looks at the constructs and levers you can pull to drive organizational performance, providing insights into how cloud, continuous delivery, disaster recovery testing, clear change management and a culture of psychological safety can positively impact software delivery performance. The research also finds that heavyweight change processes don’t work — 2019 Accelerate State of DevOps
The productivity research model shows that organizations can improve engineer productivity by investing in easy-to-use tools and information search, a culture of psychological safety, and by reducing technical debt. Improved productivity also helps drive better employee work/life balance and reduces burnout. — 2019 Accelerate State of DevOps
With both diagrams above, you can evaluate which initiatives you should take into account when planning your DevOps efforts in 2020. By the end of the day, productivity and performance are just the iceberg’s tip; there are many practices and improvements to put in place to increase the two spheres.
Regarding numbers, over the last six years, DORA developed and validated four metrics that provide a birds-eye view of software delivery and performance and predict an organization’s capacity to reach its objectives:
- Deployment frequency;
- Lead time for changes;
- Time to restore service;
- Change failure rate.
Below you can find a table with some numbers which relate different types of teams and their outcomes:
Team Health Check
I learned this practice from the product manager I currently work with at FreightHub. One day he sent me this link and asked for my opinion. Given I’m an open-minded person, I said: why not?
The main goal of this health check is to bring the truth in a very raw way. You can understand what exactly your team is feeling regarding some specific points and work on the low numbers. Are we pawns in a game of chess, with no influence over what we build or how we build it? Do we have time to learn new things? Are we ashamed of what we deliver? And so on.
The topics above are just a suggestion; you can adapt to the reality of your company and create a different health check model.
Organizational improvement work is very much a guessing game (how do you know what needs to be improved, and how will you know if it’s improving?). A systemic approach with clear visualization can reduce some of the guessiness. — Squad Health Check (Spotify)
Building strong and healthy teams is a huge challenge, and I believe all practices created to bring more visibility and predictability to this process are valid. I hope you can apply some of them to your company/team.
That’s it, thank you if you made it until here and thanks a lot Sian Snook, Masashi Beheim, Tillman Rödle, and all my peers for the learnings and exchange of ideas.