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Achieving High Performance From a Cross-Functional Team

Productivity
Psychological Safety
Performance

21 May, 2021

Mark Haseltine
Mark Haseltine

Chief Product & Technology Officer at Teachable

Mark Haseltine, Chief Product and Technology Officer at The RepTrak Company, talks about getting high performance from cross-functional teams.

Problem

Many software organizations structure their work around small, cross functional teams. This begs the question: How do you encourage these cross functional teams to work better together over time?

Most organizations measure team member’s performance through metrics: story points per sprint, time from feature definition to shop, coding hours, etc.. Focusing on metrics alone does not give teams the tools they need to achieve high performance.

Often teams lose their momentum because of skill set gaps, interpersonal conflicts, lack of trust, inappropriate limits on autonomy and insufficient business context. The consequences of these issues may show up in the metrics, but they aren’t solved by managing to metrics alone.

Actions taken

First and foremost, we believe that all great teams are built upon a strong foundation of trust which develops over time. There are different kinds of trust, but we focus on “vulnerability-based trust”. Each team member feels comfortable enough to speak up, give honest feedback, abandon beliefs not supported by data, admit when they are wrong or someone has a better idea. All of this without continually questioning the motives of their teammates. Many people call this psychological safety.

There are many different approaches to building trust on teams. One of my favorites is a peer feedback exercise to highlight each team member’s greatest strength and blind spot. Once a team has gotten to know one another a bit, you hold a session where everyone writes down a strength and blind spot for everyone else on the team. Each team member then collects their feedback from the rest of the group and synthesizes it into some common themes to report out at the end of the session. It is a great way for the group to learn how to give/receive feedback, and helps individuals understand what strengths they could be capitalizing on and specific areas for improvement. I have gotten some of the best professional feedback of my career out of these types of sessions.

Trust is a critical sign of a high-performing team because everything else builds upon it. If you have trust, you can have healthy, productive conflict around important team decisions. If you have trust, you can reach decisions out of the conflict even though the entire team might not ultimately agree. If you have trust, you can hold each other accountable for abiding by those decisions in order to move forward quickly. And most importantly if you have trust, you can attain results which is ultimately the only measure of team performance.

Lessons learned

  • My role as a technology leader is to create and build high-performing teams. It is the most valuable asset I bring to the organization.
  • Although it is important to track metrics for your teams, you should really focus on whether each team is moving towards high performance over time.
  • Step in sooner rather than later. If you notice a team that is not moving towards high performance, don’t hesitate to step in and coach. Once habits form, it can be very difficult to change trajectory. Focus on healthy team behaviors. Do teams solve their own problems or require repeated management intervention? Do teams hold retrospectives and suggest continuous improvement to how they operate? Are teams building trust as shown by productive conflict, quick decision making, peer accountability and results?

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