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Factors that Make a Low-Performing Team Achieve Higher Performance

MyMG Team
January 26, 2013

Tips that Help Perform Better

Low-performing team at rowingPerformance including ways to improve it is one of the key concerns of managing product teams. When an executive considers what constraints have the greatest impact on team functioning and product development, basically this individual needs to explore five factors common to most high-performing teams. As multiple surveys indicate, those five factors determine approximately 70% of workgroup success. In case they not considered and addressed appropriately, the likelihood that a low-performing team achieves higher performance is only 3.5 %. In this article we investigate the factors and provide tips to improve team performance.

Provide Steadfast Management Support

As practice shows, a low-performing team suffers from insufficient engagement of their executives. Lack of leadership and weakened management support often make employees feel negative effects from their actions and results. They are poorly motivated, and their collaborative goals are not clear. Managers regard product team performance as not critical to business success and so do not increase clarity on the team’s objectives.

Why this happens? Gartner (gartner.com) reports that in most cases there several reasons of poor management support in IT and development organizations, as follows:

  • Individual executive engagement. When one leader stays engaged with the team over the entire product life-cycle the performance tends to reducing. As opposed, a broader array of senior executives ensures higher level of trust and provides improved access to resources.
  • Poor communication. When managers do not listen to what their subordinates say about current and future issues collaborative performance gets lower. High-performing teams report that active and two-way communication through meetings and feedback creates a foundation for increasing employee morale and improving group performance immediately.

Obviously, active engagement requires executives to regard the team activity as strategically important enough to focus on increasing team performance, while setting aside other activities. This would be a conscious decision that required senior management to carefully consider the time they’re going to spend on maintaining alignment and switching their focus to performance improvement. Basically, such a decision would replace the tendency of some managers and leaders to provide support only when problems arose and the team became low performing.

Ensure Team Alignment with Business Strategy

In addition to steadfast management support, another factor makes low-performing teams achieve higher performance by aligning their efforts with the company’s business strategy. This alignment helps bring the collaborative actions of personnel into line with the organization’s planned goals and long-term performance expectations. It requires common understanding of the business strategy and also consistency between every objective and plan right down to the initiatives and efforts of personnel.

The ability to ensure team alignment with strategic expectations for better employee performance is possessed by a relatively small number of development organizations today. As Gartner reports, only 35% of IT companies indicate that their development teams are either “aligned” or “on the way“. Setting clearly defined milestones and providing tactical roadmaps for the personnel are the tools the executives of those organizations use to ensure close alignment between daily team activities and business strategy.

Adopt Agile PM in Low-Performing Team Environments

Besides, many companies prefer using other tools for increasing employee effectiveness and efficiency in development processes. Particularly, the tools of agile project management (PM) help seniors to keep their subordinates productive and aligned with the strategic goals. Best practices of agile project planning and requirements gathering allow employees to “go deep” into the details of the company’s business strategy and adjust their daily activities accordingly. Managers and leaders can use iterations to clarify any changes in performance requirements, share the dev teams around the business needs, and address any inherent risks associated with implementing operational strategies.

Other businesses prefer using blended methodologies of project management to give their personnel the time and skills they need to effectively meet strategic expectations and improve team performance accordingly. Custom project management (e.g. a combination of agile and waterfall) lets address resource constraints and other preexisting structural and staffing challenges.

In any case, team alignment with business strategy can be achieved if executives choose right methodology that helps effectively bridge the organization’s objectives with the execution activities reflected on the tactical roadmap. And agile iterative approaches, smart goal setting, long-term “waterfall” planning are some of the options available.

Ensure a Smooth Transition from Product Development to Launch

The performance of product development staff often gets lower because there is no effective mechanism to manage the switching from the development stage to the launch stage. The team loses right focus and suffers from lack of leadership and oversight. As a result, the product does not meet requirements, and weak support is provided to the customer at the post-development phases.

If there was a process in place that could ensure a smooth transition to post-development phases, then team members would achieve rather higher performance and better results. And the time length when the team should switch the focus and accountability from actual development to successful market introduction would be shortened, and probable performance losses would be averted as well.

Gartner points out that for development teams company size plays a significant role in determining whether the team is able to quickly and painlessly switch to the go-to-market phase. The agency also reports that the team leader (or any dedicated person, such as product owner or project manager, who provides team leadership, oversight and guidance) needs to stay engaged over the product’s entire life-cycle in order to ensure a smooth transition to the post-development phases of the life-cycle.

Ultimately, there should be someone in place who could provide leadership and bring right focus to smoothly move the team on to the go-to-market phase and operational processes. Enhanced due diligence process and unwavering management engagement would help your low-performing team achieve higher performance.

Consider Needed Skills to Assign Core Team Roles

Team staffing and role assignment need to be carried out considering the skills needed for the team to do the project they are assigned to. Having the right skills in place lets achieve higher performance in a shorter period. Gartner reports that 42% of software development companies make effective collaborative assignments because they use skills as the basic criterion for staffing core roles.

Making the right collaborative assignments based on the skills needed has a great impact on team performance throughout the entire product life-cycle, while it is critical to success at the go-to-market phase of the life-cycle. Multiple surveys indicate that at this phase teams are frequently under resourced and their ability to solve issues and achieve higher performance tends to weakening. In this situation, management should value each skilled and experienced team member in order to ensure higher employee motivation and engagement. An attempt to reduce resource turnover can be improving employee recognition and providing more compensation.

Ideally, managers should retain core members together in the same team after a project’s completion, and look for replacement only if there were no more projects for beginning/continuation, or the strategic focus was changed, new priorities were set and now so the team should adjust their activities. Candidates to core roles should be selected considering how well they were consistent with the skills requirements.

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