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Cracking the Code for Standout Performance – Applying the approach to Agile Teams

I just finished reading Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance.

In Great Business Teams, renowned business consultant Howard M. Guttman takes you inside some of the world’s most successful corporations—Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Mars Incorporated, and L’Oréal, to name a few—to discover how a powerful new high-performance horizontal model has changed the way leaders lead, team members function, challenges are met, and decisions are made. He also reveals how and why the organizations that have implemented this innovative team structure have become great companies, able to ride the crosscurrents during lean times and truly soar when opportunities arise.

As Agile team coaches or organizational coaches, we aim to increase the teams’ performance in an attempt to deliver better results. We improve quality, help the team work more efficiently, and have fun while delivering increased business value. Interestingly, many of the observations presented in Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance are in line with the Agile values and principles. Here are some of the keys points to remember:

1. Great Business Teams are Led by High-Performance Leaders who:

  • Create a “burning platform” for fundamental change;
  • Are visionaries and architects;
  • Know they cannot do it alone;
  • Build authentic relationships;
  • Model the behaviors they expect from their team;
  • Redefine the fundamentals of leadership.

Isn’t this what we would expect of the Product Owner in Scrum?

Interestingly, the author positions the process by wish the leader achieves these objectives by asking tough questions such as:

  • What is the business strategy and how committed are we to achieving it?
  • What key operational goals flow from the strategy and how do we make sure these goals drive day-to-day decision making?
  • Are we clear on roles and accountabilities?
  • What protocols or ground rules will we play by as a team?
  • Will our business relationships and interdependencies be built on candor and transparency?

Hence, the support of an external coach is useful and can help the leader ask powerful questions.

2. Members of Great Business Teams are Us-Directed Leaders

Members of great business teams think of themselves as accountable not only for their own performance but for that of their colleagues. Similar to the concept of self-organized teams, great business teams typically take accountability to achieve their objectives.

On high-performing teams, accountability goes well beyond the individuals recognition that he or she is part of the problem. It even goes beyond holding peers on a team accountable for performance. “Us” accountability includes holding the team leader accountable as well.

3. Great Business Teams Play by Protocols

Once a leader with the right skills is in place and supported by a self-organized team, the group needs to agree on the rules they will play by. Obviously, the more structured its way of working together, the less likelihood of misunderstanding, conflict or costly delays and bottlenecks the team will encounter.

One important set of protocols related to decision making.

Straight-up rules such as “no triangulations or enlistment of third party”, “resolve it or let it go”, “don’t accuse in absentia”, and “no hand from the grave or second guessing decisions” can eliminate much of the unresolved conflict that paralyzes teams and keeps them from moving to a higher level of performance.

4. Great Business Continually Raise The Performance Bar

No matter how much it achieves, great business teams are never satisfied, they implement self-monitoring, self-evaluation, continuous improvement, and raise the bar. The continuous improvement process helps a highly performing team to keep improving its performance and deliver impressive results.

5. Great Business Teams Have A Supportive Performance Management System

Having the right individuals in the right roles and establishing clear rules of engagement are not sufficient. The performance monitoring systems have to be inline with the expected behaviors.

  • Team and individual goals have to be crystal clear;
  • The necessary technical and interpersonal skills have to be provided;
  • Performance has to be monitored;
  • And feedback has to be timely an well thought out.

The book wasn’t written for an Agile audience but after reading it, it seems to me that applying the Agile principles would come close to cracking the code for standout performance.

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