Ab Banerjee


Slack and Microsoft Teams only solve half of your teams’ productivity problems

Microsoft recently rolled out its new enterprise communications tool, Microsoft Teams. The launch demonstrates that managers’ attention has turned firmly towards teams — and it puts Microsoft in a head-to-head with Slack.

In the past most new productivity tools were targeted at individuals. But not anymore. The latest apps are all about improving the performance of teams.

Managers now realise that if you improve the performance of your teams by only one per cent per day, the impact on the company can be huge. As a result, adoption has been rapid. Seventy-seven per cent of Fortune 100 companies are now on Slack, and the amount of time employees spend on the app has reached a massive 100-million hours per month.

But the risk is that team apps like Slack tackle only one problem: communication between team members. They go no further.

It can’t start and end with communication

Slack was a game-changer. It solved a huge problem. Before Slack, teams were firing thousands of emails back and forth across the globe, waiting for answers and wasting valuable time. But bad, slow communication isn’t the only thing holding back effective teams. The lack of feedback is too — and Slack can’t solve this problem.

But bad, slow communication isn’t the only thing holding back effective teams

Many team members still don’t know what their company colleagues think of their team’s performance. How well are we working together? Are we moving fast enough? What’s holding us back on delivery? Is our collective work contributing to the overall performance of the company?

If managers are serious about improving team performance, apps must help them tackle this group-feedback challenge too. In practice, this means employees must be given the tools to score their teams’ overall performance. Staff should be empowered to think of effectiveness in terms of what their team is contributing, and not just what they are doing individually.

Group feedback tools will also unveil the hidden dynamics, and suggest ways to improve team productivity and performance. It might be that two people aren’t working well together, and this tension needs to be resolved; it may be that approval processes are slowing things down, or perhaps it’s something else entirely.

All managers know that A-star employees — hard-working, talented, and passionate people — don’t always perform effectively together in a team. Stellar individual performers, yes, but the team is still underperforming as a whole. The ‘team magic’ is missing.

These are the kind of group issues that aren’t always covered by individual performance appraisals. But with team feedback apps, they can be.

Feedback has to be shared across teams too

But improving group performance is only useful if the team knows it’s doing something worthwhile in the first place.

Too often that’s not the case; too often teams operate in siloes. They are doing great work, but that work either doesn’t contribute to the overall objectives of the company, or does contribute, but teams don’t know where it fits in.

It could be that the company’s goal in 2017 is to increase revenue from existing clients, but the design team is whiling away the days launching new websites and apps to attract new clients that the company can’t support. Good, but useless.

It’s not uncommon to find two teams doing exactly the same thing

Or, even worse, it’s not uncommon to find two teams doing exactly the same thing. Perhaps one team in one office; one team in another — both fully funded.

This is where inter-team feedback can play a role. As well as enabling teams to give feedback on their own performance, apps should allow people to give feedback on other teams. Sales executives should be able to give their opinions on the design team, and vice versa. Engineers should be able to give their feedback on marketing, and vice versa.

This will provide teams with an external check and balance on their work; an outsiders’ perspective. It helps prevent situations where teams think they are doing fantastically, but their work is misaligned with the organisation’s overall goals.

Reducing conflict between teams

Surprisingly, inter-team feedback is also a very effective way to reduce conflict. In my discussions with managers at large professional services firms, the same problem comes up time and again: friction between teams. In fact, a well-known CEO (and friend) recently estimated that he spent as much as 25 per cent of his time resolving and alleviating conflicts between teams.

Many managers believe these conflicts are a fact of life in business: inevitable, unavoidable, close-to impossible to mitigate. Teams with different personalities, approaches and skills will always compete for the same resources, surely? But in my experience, the vast majority of these conflicts are caused by overly protective managers who control the information coming in and out of teams.

The result is that many team members just don’t know what they are working towards; they don’t know what senior management does with their work; and they don’t know how their work fits in with what all the other teams are doing. As a result, rather than see their team as one vital part of a wider machine working towards the same goal, they feel like a one-team raft fighting off competition from everyone else.

Suddenly, people have a greater sense of what their role is within the company

The power of team-to-team feedback is that it gives the whole team, not just the manager, an outside perspective. Suddenly, people have a greater sense of what their role is within the company, and how everyone is actually working together towards the same things.

The popularity of team communication apps shows that more and more managers are turning their attention to improving team performance. This is great news. But we must make sure that the discussion doesn’t end simply with instant messaging. Team feedback is a vital driver of company success, and to ensure productive teams, it needs to be integrated into these apps too.

Ab Banerjee is Founder and CEO of ViewsHub (https://viewshub.com), the team-to-team ratings and feedback tool.

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