Tag Archives: Trust

Boosting Effectiveness

Remember the “Computers are Everywhere” slogan from this vintage 80’s cartoon commercial?  It appeared on broadcast television during Saturday mornings as a way to educate young audiences to the newfound efficiencies computers were bringing to all aspects of society, including air traffic control, fire response, and space travel.  The commercial delivered an important message to kids, probably the same ones who a few decades later, would be at the center of the tidal wave of innovation and speculation that came to be known as the dotcom era.  Notwithstanding the commercial’s positive message and influence, it neglected to mention the importance of doing things faster, cheaper, and better, presumed the right things were being done to start with.  Which is to say, it didn’t pay to be quicker at doing the wrong things.

This is the basis for effectiveness, which has become the mark of quality for 21st century knowledge work.  But what exactly is effectiveness and what renders a person, process, or technology more effective?   In this series, Boosting Effectiveness, I will present the essential characteristics for effectiveness in knowledge work, and discuss how you can improve effectiveness in your own day-to-day knowledge work.

Purpose and Objectives

Legendary management scientist, Peter Drucker, differentiates the logic of work from the logic of working.  Work, he says, represents the tactical actions defined by an organization to fulfill a set of objectives.  These objectives in turn, represent the direction and “action commitments” of the organization towards a common purpose while also setting the standard for measuring performance.  You may hear terms like ‘mission’, ‘vision’, ‘strategy’ or ‘tactics’, but the general concept is the same – purpose, objectives and the tactical actions derived from them form a framework meant to inspire and concentrate an organization’s thoughts and efforts towards a common point.

Countries are founded on this type of framework.  The United States of America defines its purpose in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  This constitution in turn defines a set of objectives, that include the Bill of Rights.

Business organizations also hold their thoughts and actions accountable to this framework. Consider a a high-tech company with the mission of “organizing the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“.

The logic of working follows a similar principle.  Drucker reminds us that  “making the worker achieving implies consideration of the human being as an organism having peculiar physiological and psychological properties, abilities, and limitations, and a distinct mode of action”.   Consider, for example, an individual who decides to live a life that remains true to her core values and principles.

Therefore, boosting effectiveness in knowledge work first requires we maintain an intimate understanding of the context for what is ‘right’.  The key is to understand that there are two contexts for effectiveness in knowledge work.  The first embodies the purpose and objectives of the organization through the definition and creation of work, and the second embodies the purpose and objectives of the worker through their ‘distinct mode of action’, which includes their talents, skills and knowledge.

This brings me to the first principal for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge work requires an intimate awareness and understanding of the purpose and objectives of the work (logic of work), along with the purpose and objectives of the knowledge worker (logic of worker).

Harmony

Any bicycle mechanic will tell you the importance of regularly maintaining a wheel’s ‘trueness’.  This process involves the careful adjustment of tension, provided by the wheel’s spokes, to achieve a perfectly straight wheel.

Boosting effectiveness follows a similar logic.  Both require finding a harmonic balance between potentially opposing elements. When truing a wheel, a single turn of the spoke can impact any of the four variables controlling its shape and performance.  In knowledge work, any decision or action that doesn’t fully harmonize logic of work with the logic of the worker can have a detrimental impact on one, the other, or both.   Consider the following examples that benefit both the work and the worker:

This brings me to the second principal for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge work requires that decisions concerning people, process or technology harmonize the logic of work with the logic of the worker.

Responsible Commitments

In his book ‘Reflections on Management‘, Watts Humphrey talks about the importance of creating and communicating ‘responsible commitments’.  These commitments are key to a team’s performance, and according to Humphrey ‘the only way for the team to operate’.   Thus far, the principles for boosting knowledge worker effectiveness have focused on the logic of work and the logic of the worker.  Responsible commitments, although rooted in a work plan, are also designed to elicit and nurture a shared vision and commitment from all team members.  This is key in an era of knowledge work where the body of knowledge required for effective decision making rests with the knowledge workers themselves.  Humphrey points out four necessary characteristics of these commitments:

  1. They should be based on a work plan
  2. They should be freely assumed and publicly accessible
  3. They should follow a phase of diligent preparation
  4. They should precede the performance required to fulfill them

Responsible commitments thus ensure that the vision and commitment towards fulfilling an objective starts with the specialists, while also providing a motivational boost for two reasons.  First, the individual and/or team will feel more confident in achieving commitments they help define.  Second, with their name associated to the commitments, credibility is also on the line.

Therefore, the third principle for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge requires  a culture of creating and communicating ‘responsible commitments’ of work, by engaging and eliciting the thoughts and opinions of all members whose responsibility it is to fulfill them.

Quality Feedback

In February 2001, 17 software developers met to discuss lightweight software development methods. Heavyweight predictive software development approaches, such as the Waterfall method, were perceived ineffective, complicated and slow to respond to changing requirements.  The software development community was heavily criticized through widely quoted statistics showing the failure rate of software development efforts.  The air was right for a change and this now infamous meeting resulted in what has become the Agile software development movement.

The software development practices born out of this movement share a common characteristic.   They are all designed around the early and continuous discovery and adaption to change.    Test driven development, for example, which forces a programmer to confront the question “Why am I doing that?” more times than not, has been proven more effective at improving the quality of software being produced.  Or take Agile’s promotion of daily meetings, which inspire all team members to open up and think through their work day, anticipating changes while also better understanding their previous issues through shared feedback.   There is also Scrum’s burndown chart, which helps team members visualize their daily progress, or Agile Retrospectives, which give all members a chance to reinforce what they liked, learned, lacked and longed for from the previous software release.  These practices are all designed to generate quality feedback so teams can make the necessary adjustments.

This brings me to the fourth principal for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge work requires practices designed to generate timely, accurate, precise, and complete feedback regarding the work’s output or the worker’s performance.

Trust

Arguably the most fundamental and overarching element when talking about boosting knowledge worker’s effectiveness is trust. By trust, I’m referring to professional trust and its components.  In order to establish the foundation for boosting a worker’s effectiveness, there needs to be a strong and growing foundation of trust between a worker and his team, his employer as well as the technologies and processes underlying her work.   Knowledge management researcher, David Snowden, confirms the importance of trust (pdf) for the effective exchange of knowledge by suggesting “shared context is vital to knowledge exchange, and such context always involves some human trusted validation.”

This brings me to the fifth and final principal for boosting effectiveness in knowledge work:

Boosting effectiveness in knowledge work requires the growing presence of professional trust between the worker and his colleagues, employer, tools, processes and customer.

This concludes the series on Boosting Effectiveness.

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Four Stages for Team Effectiveness

A few years ago, I was part of a software development group stressed by a combination of challenges.  The first was our ability to quickly assemble small effective teams to take on an increasing amount of short term consulting assignments.  The second was ensuring that these same people could divide their attention and continue their contribution to a core team focused on a longer term and more strategic software product.  As a budding project manager in charge of both teams, I grasped at anything that could help me better understand the team-dynamics we would experience over the coming months.

Source: Unknown

I stumbled upon Bruce Tuckman’s, 5-stages of group development model (a.k.a. forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning), which despite it’s age, and simplicity, proved timeless in helping me understand the maturity of the transient and core teams I was managing.   Fast-forward a few years, and my understanding of team dynamics has grown to include concepts that are more deliberate in describing the stages of growth for high-performing teams.  Although I liked Tuckman’s model in the past, I no longer find it useful because it does not make explicit the pre-requisites for effectiveness from one stage to the next.  For example, how well your team ‘performed’ depends on how well they ‘stormed’.  I want to remove any notion haphazardness in Tuckman’s model while making explicit the characteristics required for successful transition from one stage to the next.

Four Stages for Team Effectiveness

I’m proposing the following new model for effective team growth:

Self-organize -> Trust -> Adjust -> Deliver

The growing research and understanding of creativity, motivation and trust in knowledge worker teams inspired this Four Stages for Team Effectiveness model.  Derived from Tuckman’s model, it borrows concepts and terminology from Agile software development, the importance of trust in creative teams, and from Peter Drucker’s teachings on knowledge worker effectiveness.

Self-Organize

It doesn’t surprise me to hear Dan Pink, The Surprising Truth on What Motivates Us, talking about the critical role autonomy plays in fostering motivation in creative types.  The link between autonomy and self-organization is how they work hand-in-hand towards ensuring the most effective team members are assigned to productive work as well as inviting the cohesion and commitment required to overcome big challenges.   The key with self-organization is for management to define the right-outcomes while allowing team members to organize around their strengths in order to determine how to achieve them.  Command-and-control organizations lacking this autonomy and self-organization across their structure, are forced to rely on a complex and potentially demotivating system of closely monitoring people, and their productivity, while providing the “carrot and stick” rewards to keep them going.

Trust

By trust I not only mean the trust between team members, but also the trust between a team and their stakeholders, their customers, their organization, their processes and the tools they use to build solutions.  As Rachel Davies writes, the equation for Trustworthiness depends on four critical factors.  Each of these factors is responsible for regulating the level of trust in knowledge worker teams.  Diana Larsen’s Agiles 2009 presentation on trust supports this equation in more detail by elaborating on the necessary components of trust which include credibility, support, and consistency.

Adjust

As Jim Collins wrote in his book Good to Great, sooner or later all great teams will need to confront the brutal facts. Regardless of the level of trust between team members, uncomfortable periods of adjustment are inevitable.  They represent the teams desire to narrow the gap between what they are doing and what they should be doing.

These gaps can result from changes in the marketplace or from within the organization.  Development methodologies or business processes designed to continuously discover and communicate these changes will increase a team’s ability to respond to them as exemplified by the Agile software development practices.

Deliver

Elevated levels of motivation and happiness will be the signature of teams who have grown through and mastered these previous stages. By this stage they will be an autonomous, cohesive group, committed to doing the right things while delivering immense value.  Teams should learn to rely on the feedback loop, emerging from this stage, to reinforce and grow the solid foundation of trust and effectiveness they have built.

Conclusion

Think back to the software development teams you’ve been a member of.  Do you remember your own stages of forming, storming, norming, performing or adjourning?   Now compare the stages of growth between a lackluster team you worked with and a high-performing team.   How did the stages of growth differ between these teams?   I’m proposing a new model for growing effective teams and the elements of this model are rooted in exactly those differences.

Share your own stories of team growth and effectiveness by emailing techdoer@gmail.com.

Related posts: Behavior Driven Hiring, Boosting Effectiveness

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People Narrative

Do you remember when Java’s promise for platform independence opened new frontiers in architectural planning? Or when Extreme Programming gave new life to an audience disillusioned by the Waterfall model?  It seems like only yesterday when these two carried the distinction of  “next great thing”.   A distinction that influences the collective conscience of software professionals, not to mention the effect it  has on the software development ecosystem.  In 1999 we witnessed Windows ME, Outlook 2000, RUP, DCOM, MySQL, personal homepages, and XML vying for this distinction.  Ten years later we find Chrome OS, Google Wave, Agile, REST, NoSQL, Twitter, and JSON picking up the fight.

Programmers and startups have also found themselves vying to become the next Bill Gates, or creating the next Google, but rarely do we sufficiently understand the personal characteristics that inspire such distinction.  For example, we know the benefits behind Agile’s iterative approach,  or model-view controller in Ruby on Rails, but do we agree on the interpersonal traits required for a high-performing individual?  In a world where software development processes, and technologies continue their trend towards commoditization, it is the ability to answer this question, and others like, that will differentiate organizations in the marketplace.

People Narrative is a look at the traits that distinguish talented people in the software development lifecycle.  A comprehensive panorama of such traits can serve as a useful reference for programmers, project managers or executives to better understand, select, and improve the people in their own software development teams.

Competence

What talents come to mind when you think of the programmers you’ve worked with?   Was it their strong ambition, power of persuasion, or their ‘seeing eye’ intuition that set them apart?   Or maybe it was their relentless attention to detail coupled with an insatiable curiosity that drove their success.   Like them, you also possess innate abilities that uniquely (un)qualify you for certain types of work. Your ability to perform at a high level will largely depend on how well the unique talents you possess align with the needs of the job.

Still too many companies don’t understand this. They write job postings emphasizing a particular skill or body of knowledge yet neglect to mention specific talents required by the job. As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman so eloquently state in their book, First, Break All the Rules, it is critical for companies to understand that the equation of competence includes the set of talents, skills and knowledge an individual possesses.   The key differentiator between these three is that you cannot teach talent.  For example, I’m willing to bet that an innate attention to detail was a major contributor to the performance of the last superstar programmer you worked with, or that good listening skills contributed to the excellent communication in your current team, but only a healthy dose of empathy has helped you fully understand them (i.e. Peter Drucker’s “the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”).

The performance of your software development teams will primarily depend on the individual and collective talents that characterize them.    I’ve included a comprehensive list of these talents in Table 1.

Abstraction

Affability

Altruism

Ambition

Analysis

Articulation

Autonomy

Assertiveness

Candidness

Charisma

Commitment

Competition

Comprehension

Concentration

Confidence

Confrontation

Consistency

Creativity

Curiosity

Deliberation

Determination

Empathy

Endurance

Foresight

Humbleness

Imagination

Intuition

Persuasion

Passion

Patience

Persistence

Politeness

Precision

Recall

Resourcefulness

Sensibility

Sympathy

Wit

Table 1. Panorama of Individual Talents

Intelligence

To better understand this list, I’ll need to categorize.  In their book,  Buckingham and Coffman offer striving, thinking and relating as three possibilities.  Using this scheme, striving talents such as  determination explain the ‘why’ we perform, thinking talents such as a superior analytical ability explain ‘how’ we perform, and finally relating talents such as charisma explain for ‘whom’ we best perform.

The Theory of  Multiple Intelligences, proposed by Howard  Gardner, and more specifically the categories of intelligence he defines, offers an alternative classification.   Howard suggests eight different types of intelligence including:

  • Bodily-kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal* (i.e. social intelligence)
  • Verbal-linguistic*
  • Logical-mathematical*
  • Intrapersonal* (i.e. emotional intelligence)
  • Visual-spatial*
  • Musical
  • Naturalistic

I’d like to assume that the distinguishing talents of high-performing software development teams span those intelligences marked with an asterisk.   More important is the understanding that successful individuals and teams possess talents not typically understood or revered by hiring organizations or educational institutions.  For example, standardized intelligence tests that limit themselves to measuring logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic abilities.

Effectiveness

In software development terms, think of effectiveness as the runtime engine.  When the code is syntactically correct, it can be executed.  Every programmer can admit to an overwhelming sense of motivation that comes with seeing their code execute flawlessly. But without this runtime engine, even the most beautiful piece of code is rendered functionally useless.

Similarly in people, maximizing effectiveness requires a thorough understanding of their competence so that productive work can be assigned to the right individual.   While it may be straightforward to assign programming work to an individual who stands out for his knowledge of Java, it may not be so straightforward to conclude that the work of a leader should be assigned to an individual with a talent for empathy.   When the full spectrum of an individual’s competence is required for the work at hand, the individual’s motivation will grow, and she will be satisfied in her job.  There has been strong emphasis on aligning business and IT over the years, and it’s time we also realize the impact of (im)properly aligning a person’s competence with their work.

Lacking a thorough understanding of an individual’s competence is a recipe for their ineffectiveness.  Peter Drucker taught us that the job of the knowledge worker is to be effective (and similarly stay motivated) while also reminding us that:

“…people of high effectiveness are conspicuous by their absence in knowledge jobs. High intelligence is common enough amongst knowledge workers. Imagination is far from rare. The level of knowledge tends to be high. But there seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence, his imagination, or his knowledge. Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement.”

Perhaps he referred to the limited definition of intelligence and brilliance, which is to say, achievement requires the broader set of intelligences usually found in more than one person alone.   Our teams should be formed on this basis and as Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman stated, the job of a manager is to convert these combined talents into performance.


3 Stages for High-Performance Teams

Figure 1.  High-Performance Teams

Trust

Diana Larsen’s presentation on Trust taught us that an individual’s competence (i.e. talent, skill, knowledge) is a major component towards growing professional trust  (See Figure 1).  A sufficient level of trust must exist in order for a self-organizing team to maximize their individual and collective effectiveness.   It will serve as the foundation for the team’s understanding of each individual’s competence, of how best to organize, as well as maximizing their ability to execute.

Conclusion

It should be clear that before we can preach the benefits of Agile software development, or evangelize the next great programming language, for example, we need to understand the talents of people, because it is these talents, and our ability to identify and nurture them, that will primarily influence the foundation for individual and team trust, effectiveness, motivation and overall performance.

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