“If they self-organize, what is our role as team leads?” This is one tough question my managers asked me when I proposed we give eXtreme Programming a try. At the time, this question made feel very uneasy, and I had a hard time providing some good answers. 15 years later, I think I finally have finally come to terms with the tough issue of management and self-organization. There are many responsibilities you still have as a leader in an agile organization, one such role is growing high performing teams. High performing teams typically do not spring into creation all by themselves. Take a bunch of individuals and lump them together to form a team, and by default this is likely to evolve into chaotic anarchy, or submissive apathy. Usually a mix of these. Okay, so how does one “grow high performing teams” you ask? Read on for some pointers to get you started. The first area to zoom into comes from a research Google has conducted on its workforce, whose aim was to figure out what affects team performance. The basis of team performance is… (drumroll please)… something with the rather academic name of Psychological Safety. Psychological Safety means that, as a team member, I don’t need to think twice before I admit to a mistake or a weakness, or before I ask for help. I can say “I don’t understand, please explain” or “I’m not sure”. They could have asked Patrick Lencioni, who calls it “Vulnerability-based Trust”, or Amy Edmondson from Harvard, who determined that Psychological Safety is a key aspect of team performance in her groundbreaking research of medical teams in hospitals, way before Google asked itself the question. Google doubts research conducted elsewhere, and has the deep pockets to invest in those doubts. Here-on, I’ll just call it “Trust” (although trust is a wider concept). So the big question is… what is the level of trust in a team? And if it’s not high, what can you do to increase it? Assessing trust in a team You cannot manage what you don’t measure. So you first need a way to measure trust in a team. The easy way is to just ask your team to rate the following statements on a scale of “fully agree” to “fully disagree”:
- Team members are quick to own up mistakes, and give credit on achievements to other team members
- Team members frequently ask for help from other team members
- Team members know one another on a personal level, and have no problem discussing their personal life
- What help do I need from the team in order to complement my weaknesses? How could I translate this into a request for help?
- Where did I fail recently and what I have learned from that? Can my team learn from my failure as well? Do I feel comfortable sharing it with them?