I know its conventional to open a new blog with some kind of declarative statement or thesis, but I want to start with a question. If you were to measure just one thing about your team, one metric that best captures “the human element” what would it be?
This is not an idle question. In todays world of big data, analytics and AI it appears that every aspect of our lives, especially our working lives, is captured, tracked and analyzed. Some of it no doubt to our benefit, but I’m not convinced that we are measuring the right things, or at the very least - the most effective thing.
“Sentiment” is often identified as the key team attribute that we should be aware of. Sentiment, however suffers from a somewhat amorphous quality, where too often it is taken to mean only what the presenter wants it to mean at that point in time.
“Happiness” was my initial pick. The theory being that if you were able to empirically measure the happiness of each member of your team and combine that in some fashion for a team score, you would get valuable insight into the overall health of the team.
It makes sense, right? A happy team is likely happy because they are performing well. Being able to measure this aspect is important to maintain a healthy team dynamic. This, in turn is beneficial operationally as this happiness would also indicate a lack of interpersonal conflict and presumably, lower staff turnover, which among other things has a tangible impact to the company’s bottom line.
The big drawback, however, in measuring happiness is that it does rather focus on what I can only categorize as the “career-page” aspects of your job. How much time do you actually spend doing the things you that are documented in the "about us" page? Like when you sit holding signs with the company’s values written on them, or when you laugh heartily mid-task with your exceptionally diverse team, or (most randomly) when you feel the need to collectively jump into the air together?
Measuring happiness, fails to acknowledge the very real fact that often as part of our jobs we have to do tasks that don’t particularly make us happy, and that yet are very necessary. Those regular formulaic activities that add structure and consistency to our output. The iterations of a deliverable that take it from “good enough” to “excellent”. To use the dinner metaphor, we don’t just get to eat desert (professionally speaking) but we need to eat our veggies too!
So what then should we measure? I’m not looking for some abstract HR “vanity metric”, but a real-time operational attribute of any team. Ideally it will be a leading indicator of interpersonal conflict, or technical problems. What you really want to know is, is your team worried about delivering on a current goal? Or if they have just completed its goal, do they feel good about it? Are they exhausted from running from sprint to sprint? Have they hit their target but racked up a lot of technical debt in the process? In software teams, what is the human aspect to the JIRA burn-down chart?
The answer we settled on and codified into our standup tool Genchi was “Confidence” (and in case that plug was too subtle, you should definitely sign up and start tracking your team’s confidence today!)
Ultimately every team has two attributes that we’re really interested in – the goal the team is working towards and the likelihood of achieving that goal.
If you think about it, the best proxy we have for how likely the team is to achieve their goal at any point in time is the team’s collective best guess of how confident they are in achieving their goal. And the team’s collective confidence can only be seen by collecting and combining the confidence of each individual team member.
Tracking the team’s confidence helps answer the key question “are we going to deliver?” Perhaps more importantly is even if they do deliver, how do they feel about it? A lack of confidence upon achieving a goal, is indicative of some deeper problem. Perhaps the goal is overly ambitious. Perhaps the team is lacking the skills or tools necessary to complete the task. Perhaps they team dynamic isn’t healthy. Tracking the team confidence doesn’t provide the answers, but it does provide a useful place to start asking questions.
Our core thesis is that people want to be part of highly performing teams, and getting sh*t done, and completing hard tasks is more important than doing things that make you “happy”. You can be sure that the collective team effort of putting a human on the moon, came with a lot tedium, unpleasant tasks, stress and anxiety but wow – how rewarding must it have been?
So let me end with the same question that I started with. If you were to consistently capture and track one attribute of your team daily, one element that best captured the human element of the team, what would it be?