High Performance Teams

Every time I read about organizing people into teams I got excited about the way people will become more efficient by working in consistent teams, how its more interesting for people to work on a variety of projects and how self-directed teams improve morale. Then I’d have trouble implementing it in my organization. There was a person who had the scarce skills, I couldn’t get my backlog to fit well with the skills and availability of the team members or I couldn’t figure out how to fit managers into the picture – something was always awkward and hard.

So, I started to think about a structure that combined self-directed teams with Helpers who would assist with parts of a project – a model that looks more like an atom with a team as the nucleus and Helpers as the free electrons that orbit them.

Let’s take a closer look at how you might develop a similar model for your organization. Disclaimer – the math in my examples works out perfectly – in the real world mine doesn’t and yours won’t either!

In my last article I talked about a mental model for skill development. Once you’ve created your skill model and evaluated each person’s skills against the skill matrix, you’re ready to create teams. First, decide what proportion of each skill a team needs. You can use the average time spent using each skill on your past projects to start. For example, you might find your averages are 20% project management, 40% building, 20% testing, 10% designing and 10% training.

Now look at your portfolio of projects – break the project hours into the skill buckets and combine your projects so you can keep people busy. Imagine the following mix of projects with a target of 140 billable hours per person for the month – notice how adding up the hours drives the team’s size and composition:

Client
Project Manager
Designer
3 Builders
2 Testers
Training
A
40
50
100
70
10
B
20
40
160
100
50
C
70
50
100
70
40
D
10
0
60
40
40
Total
140
140
420
280
140

Again, you won’t get a perfect match between available work and your team members so find the best possible match, create a couple of teams and then work toward growing people’s skills so they can play multiple roles on your projects and get closer to matching your backlog. In the beginning some people may cross teams to finish existing projects or fill a gap while the other team grows skills – that’s OK as long as its minimal or decreasing over time.

Now that you have a couple of teams – think of them as Helpers who play roles across teams. Helpers may include you, your management team or someone with highly specialized knowledge that only works a few hours on each project. These people are your free electrons – people the teams will request as needed for their projects.

You’ll find the tricky part is scheduling – frustrating your Helpers with double booked calls or meetings, or two projects with the same deadline for their deliverables. You’ll need to develop rules for scheduling Helpers and give your Helpers the freedom to decline a meeting if the rules are violated.

In the end, you’ll have an easy to understand model that scales as your business grows.



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