It's time to put the power in the hands of managers, and enable them to understand their teams better, and faster.
Fixing team assessments - the first step to building high-performance teams
Addressing the current challenges with team assessments and how to improve them.
Assessing performance and productivity in the workplace has been a complex and much-debated topic over the last few decades, with ever-changing research, opinions, and methodologies. There are so many complexities with measuring effectiveness in individual knowledge workers - when trying to measure team effectiveness, you only find more complexities, variables, and uncertainty due to the nature of how teams work and their interdependencies. Furthermore, there are varying influencing factors on team performance to consider, namely team member dynamics, as well as external events (outside the team’s control), of which both can have a considerable impact on team performance.
Nevertheless, it is a non-negotiable aspect of good management to find appropriate measures to track whether a team is on the path to success. It’s also crucial to identify areas where the team needs management’s support. Unfortunately, a lot of this happens when it’s already too late and the team is already noticeably disrupted.
Just like healthy humans, healthy teams need regular checkups to ensure that they are functioning in good condition and there are no potential threats to their longevity. Regular checkups will catch deviations and enable a corrective course of action. When teams begin to lose their ability to function at a high level of effectiveness, shown by declining performance, many of them never quite pull out of this downward cycle and continue to exist as a collection of individuals simply masquerading as a team.
“Prevention is the best form of medicine”
There are some standard types of ‘health checks’ for teams which primarily consist of pulse surveys, which most of the time are not continuous or adaptive to team activity, but rather contain a set of repetitive questions which don’t yield much valuable insight to leaders. One could argue that agile retrospectives are the answer to preventative medicine within teams, however, let’s face it – 99% of the time these meetings are talking about the work and not the team. Plus, when trying to solicit open and honest feedback from all different personality types in a team in a public format - you rarely get the critical information because no one wants to be the one to share the touchy issues.
Traditionally, leaders and consultants turn to one-off assessments to evaluate team effectiveness and pinpoint areas of improvement. When it comes to team development, team assessments should aim to understand the current state of the team and help identify areas of strength and weakness. Team assessments come in different forms, but all aim to provide insights into how well the team is working together. There are many reasons why organizations might use a team assessment. Common reasons include:
- To deeper diagnose team problems and determine root causes of known issues.
- To measure team effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.
- To assess team dynamics and identify potential conflict areas.
- To evaluate team roles and responsibilities.
- To benchmark team performance against others.
A team assessment should go beyond simply measuring satisfaction or engagement. It ought to provide a more in-depth look at team dynamics and how the team functions together. This information can then be used to help the team leader develop a plan for improvement.
The problem with current team assessment methods:
- Individual-based assessments are not built to measure team effectiveness accurately (personality assessments are useful for building teams)
- They are reactive - oftentimes only being executed after there are performance or relationship issues in the team
- They are point-in-time - measuring what is happening in that present moment but not reflecting an accurate picture (things change daily, hourly)
- Not all teams are the same - so it isn't always a one size fits all approach.
- Statistical accuracy - asking questions on an individual level in group evaluations does not always accurately reflect the team's consensus and sentiment
- Who executes them - managers tend to focus on things they think are problems, ignore others, and don’t focus on where they may actually be part of the problem as well. (looking to confirm beliefs as opposed to being open to unknown results)
- They are tedious, boring, and no one likes doing them.
- They often require external support/consultants, not enabling managers and teams to move fast enough and self-assess>rectify.
- Lack of taking action -knowing what to do after the results arrive.
- Managers can’t necessarily action all the issues uncovered alone.
The solution we propose will help to measure and increase team effectiveness in a much more seamless and autonomous way, resulting in an immediate impact on team performance and engagement, and not just a score to complain about.
In order for team assessments to be effective, it's important that they:
- Be tailored specifically towards the team and their work (measuring what matters).
- Are backed by research in team psychology.
- Allow room for team member suggestions and contributions.
- Are continuous and not a ‘one-off’ event.
- Adapt and grow with the team.
- Quick and easy to implement.
An alternative approach: Continuous and dynamic team-based micro-assessments
Continuous micro-assessments that focus exclusively on the team as a collective is an extremely powerful and untapped method for team measurement and improvement. Being dynamic, they evolve with the development of the team and the project they may be working on – this provides contextual insights to team leaders and does not bore team members with repetitive or irrelevant questions.
Micro-assessments work best when the team is included in forming them, getting their input on things like; what are our team values, and what behaviors we want to drive that will make us successful. By collectively answering these questions, you will arrive at a much more meaningful set of measurements, you will be able to detect and prevent issues and risks that may have already been known to your team, and most importantly you will get team buy-in by including them in the process from early on. What’s interesting to note is the exercise in itself becomes a form of team evaluation as you start to uncover topics that may have been hidden until now.
Building high-performance teams takes more than just team assessments - it's a continuous journey that should be revisited on a regular basis. However, micro-assessments can be an extremely valuable tool in the team leader's arsenal if used correctly. By incorporating team values, communication styles, and risk factors into the assessment process, team leaders can get a much more accurate representation of their team's true performance and dynamics and can better target appropriate team development interventions.
Continue with personality-based assessments
I do want to emphasize that we are not saying there is no value in the individual-based assessments, there certainly is. It is incredibly important to understand each other when working together in a team and to identify early on potential sources of conflict as well as preferred styles of communication and collaboration. We believe these are just another tool in a team’s arsenal for optimal performance, and they can be administered even after the team has been formed, it’s never too late to understand one another better. It is important to note that research shows that the make-up of a team has less influence on that specific team’s outcomes compared to the dynamics that develop throughout their time working together. Therefore, while it is important to structure teams with adequate skill-matching and archetype blends - how team dynamics evolve, and how their collaborative rhythm develops, are in fact the most crucial elements to monitor and appropriately nurture. A team’s clarity in direction, roles, and responsibilities, how they make decisions together, and what processes they follow - all these factors are impossible to detect from personality assessments alone, thus the need for a method of continuous assessment.
What will the future hold?
The future of team development is a question that is still up for debate. However, there are some key trends that are emerging that could have a big impact on how teams work together in the future.
One such trend is, leveraging the capabilities brought about by artificial intelligence, to enhance the automation and efficiency of team development. Not to remove the human element at all, but to react faster to team critical issues and alert the right human to take action. Predictive analytics will play a large part in this space as well as behavioral science, bringing both the hard and soft elements of management together.
The move away from the individual and toward the team in the workplace will continue to drive new innovations in both processes and tools when it comes to measuring and increasing team performance. Check out our video series which discusses these topics.
As businesses become more competitive, more virtual, and more uncertain - the need for teams to work together effectively becomes more and more important. In order to stay ahead and retain their talent, businesses need to start to focus on team enablement, which quite simply is the process of ensuring that teams have all the tools and resources they need to be successful. Measurement and development – being a core fundamental to their success. Employees are happiest when they work in teams they want to be a part of and where they can get their best work done together. A team's collective sense of fulfillment and belonging by producing great work together are two key drivers of employee retention and workplace engagement.
Simply put - organizations that focus heavily on enabling their teams will be more successful than those that don't. Teams make up the organism of the organization and collectively, their development and success are the development and success of the organization.
To get started with Micro-Assessments® and easily measure your team's effectiveness on a weekly basis - sign up here. (Microsoft Teams or Slack required)