As trainers and managers, we often talk about improving teamwork in a business, but what does that actually mean? How do you measure teamwork? And is that something you should even be doing to keep track of what's going on at your business?
One approach is to measure the team's output such as hours billed, units sold, number of tickets answered, repeat customers, or whether the team completes a project on time and under budget. It's easy to track these actions since they're concrete, and you can judge at a glance the team's improvement over baseline performance.
While valid, this approach seems a little ... underwhelming. It doesn't show who is doing what on the team and how the members worked together to achieve their goals. A team may perform well on the bare numbers but if it is alienating team members, hiding behind closed doors, failing to communicate, creating conflict, or being too risk-averse, then you're setting the business up for failure.
In short, numbers aren't enough. It's much more revealing to add qualitative measures into the mix and assess the degree to which the team is demonstrating key teamwork skills. You can measure these through surveying the individual team members or by observation.
In terms of the metrics, here are the four biggies for measuring the quality, productivity and satisfaction levels of your teams.
Metric #1. Decision making and interaction
All members should contribute equally in a high-performance team. When things go wrong, it's usually for one of the following reasons:
- The team has pinned its hopes on a single star player, such that work is prevented from moving forward until the MVP has given it her seal of approval.
- The team has fallen into groupthink, such that no one is prepared to deviate from the consensus of the group. The absence of opposing opinions can result in really poor decision making.
- The "too much talent" paradox, where the team has the wrong mix of dominant personalities who jockey each other for access to premier roles and responsibilities. When there are too many assertive leaders, the team gets stuck in a circle of conflict and nothing gets achieved.
Good teams give everyone an equal voice in decision making and have processes in place for addressing the tough and negative issues that need to be acknowledged. Ask the members:
- Does the team have open, respectful, honest yet challenging conversations in meetings?
- Does everyone say what they want in the room, not after the meeting?
- What was the last major decision the team made? Do you understand why the decision was made?
Metric #2: Meeting goals at a sustainable pace
It's a basic expectation that the team should meet its deadlines and goals previously set. But what you need to measure is how the team achieves those deadlines. Does it deliver a high standard of work within the deadline whilst working at a sustainable pace (efficient team)? Or does it perform lethargically for several weeks then go all out to deliver at the last minute (inefficient team)?
Teams that don't work at a feasible and sustainable rate do not plan changes or manage last-minute interruptions well, which can be disastrous if you need to make eleventh-hour course corrections. More significantly, there's a risk that team members in inefficient teams will eventually reach burn out.
And what of the team who fails to meet goals within the required deadline? Here, you need to ask yourself: was the deadline missed for the wrong reasons (lack of sustainable effort)? Or was it missed for the right reasons (the set goal being too far stretched)?
Metric #3: Accountability
Members of successful teams hold themselves and each other to the same high interpersonal and performance standards. Crucially, they enforce those standards within the team, that is, without the input of a manager or team leader. When teams rely on a third party to enforce standards, they're effectively saying, "we don't think it's our responsibility to care for and improve the team."
Some things to look out for here is how engaged team members are in the team process:
- Do they show up on time?
- Are they well-prepared for meetings?
- Do they try to pass the buck or find a scapegoat when things go wrong?
- Do members focus on the needs of the team and not their individual successes, failures or needs?
Metric #4: Developing skills
A team has more chance of delivering excellence if it is continuously developing and expanding its set of skills. Having a wide range of skills and nonstop development makes a team resilient in the face of change.
Developing skills takes all sorts of forms from practical skills training courses to group bonding programs and onboarding new members to plug a hard-to-fill skills gap. It doesn't really matter what the team does; the key is that the team proactively identifies a skills gap and does something about it.
What you're essentially assessing here is quality, but since quality is too difficult to define, skill development is a good proxy. Teams who are keen to get better at what they do likely will perform better, and it's worth rewarding a team who takes active steps to minimize its weaknesses.
Summing It Up
Performance metrics are, first and foremost, for your team. Team members like feedback. They want to know how well they are doing, whether they are meeting areas key objectives, and the areas where they can improve.
Feedback is more valuable when it's backed up with hard data. Otherwise, it can sound too much like a personal judgment. Without metrics, you don't know for sure what your team's strengths and weaknesses are, or how much time they spend on each aspect of a project, or whether someone who looks good on paper is a poor fit in the role you've placed her in, or internal conflicts are hurting outcomes. Ideally, your performance metrics would touch on all these issues.
Good team performance measures can also help you create a snapshot of your team - who is performing well and in what context. This can be valuable when it comes to adding new members or changing the team's composition.