Key Steps to a High Performance Team: Coaching and Development

Today I revisit a core topic of Recipes for IT: High Performance IT Teams. This post is the last of six on how to build and sustain High Performance Teams. I think the aspiration of building a high performing team is a lofty, worthwhile, and achievable vision. If you have ever participated in a high performance team at the top of their game, in other words a championship team, then you know the level of professional reward and sense of accomplishment that accompanies such membership. I have been fortunate enough to have been part of several such teams and it was a remarkable experience, especially in terms of what was accomplished. And for most companies that rely significantly on IT, if their IT team is a high performing team, it can make a very large difference in their products, their customer experience, and their bottom line. I hope you find the material and this last post on the topic to be both enlightening and actionable.  Best, Jim

Coaching and Developing High Performance Teams: As I have mentioned previously, I have a positive outlook on the competence of today’s managers and leaders. I see more material and approaches available for managers than ever before and more effort and study applied by the managers as well. Much of the material though is either a very narrow spectrum or a single technique which does not address the full spectrum of practices and knowledge that must be brought to bear to build and sustain a high performance IT team. So,  I have assembled a set of practices that I have leveraged or I have seen peers or other senior IT leaders use to build high performance IT teams in this series of posts to enable managers to have a broad source of practice at their disposal. Senior IT leaders, with his or her senior management team, can use these practices to build a high performing team, in the following steps:

Today’s post covers how to coach and develop to sustain your high performance team.  The previous steps are prior posts and I have further constructed reference pages with links above.

If you do exceedingly well, then your organization will become a net exporter of talent. In fact, you should set this as a personal goal where your organization earns a reputation for having talent that can make a difference elsewhere in the corporation or entity.

Sustaining such a team at its peak performance requires the following ongoing ingredients:

  • a compelling organizational vision
  • a positive results-oriented culture that leverages data-based decisioning and rewards quality results
  • a corresponding set of individual expectations and goals
  • a thoughtful and well-matched development plan for each of your staff
  • and challenging assignments and experiences coupled with thoughtful immediate coaching

We have already covered previously how to define a compelling vision but understand that it will be necessary to evolve your vision as you reach the initial goals. Your goals should not move beyond reach or beyond reason, instead they should become more multidimensional in terms of your contributions to the corporate vision. For example, if you have reached your initial service and availability goals, then you should look to improve your transaction performance or the batch cycle time. Or you should move to top quartile or better in online rankings for your industry (such as those produced by Gomez). If you have met your overall budget and cost goals, you should look to improve your unit costs and map out a trajectory to achieve first quartile unit cost in 12 to 24 months. If you have achieved your project delivery goals you should look to improve your time to market and enhance the business capability through greater partnering with the business and delivering innovation. These are all appropriate evolutions that will enable you to contribute more to the corporate goals and enable your team to drive to a higher level of performance.

It is also important that you maintain the open culture based on merit and quality results as well. Assuming you have been able to attract the right talent on your team, you should now look for them to grow through increased responsibility. Part of that comes not just from them performing their roles but also by them not being overburdened with your direction. As your team matures and improves in capability, your profile as a leader should become less directional and more of a coach.  For insight into your own profile, I recommend you read this post on PDI as well as the material by Jim Collins on a Level 5 leader. Encourage your team to do the underlying analysis and map out recommended directions. This will enable them to take on more responsibility and become better leaders. Look to guide and correct as needed, but they will become better leaders through the experience. Remember that enabling an environment where mistakes can be made, lessons learned, and quality and innovation and initiative are prized means you will get a staff that behaves and performs in that manner.

To enable each individual to achieve their potential does require a specific and well-thought development plan. Fundamentally, this development plan must be based on an robust job profiles or descriptions set within and overall career framework. It is important for an IT organization that these job profiles map out the competencies, experience and credentials that staff should attain in order to progress. Further, each job profile should be set out in logical steps or a ladder so that your staff can understand how their career can progress. And there should be the opportunity to progress  I will be providing a sample template of such a framework later this week. Once you have a robust job profile coupled with effectively cascaded goals, you can now map out the proper development areas for your staff. I recommend that you invest in the time to do it well. Focus on the key areas of development and provide constructive, specific examples from which one can understand and learn. It would be even better if these examples were also situations where you have provided immediate feedback or observation. Unfortunately, many managers fail to assess appropriately the importance of writing good performance reviews and development plans. They either fail set out thoughtful goals, or they provide only general feedback or criticism. Remember to leverage the talent assessment work done in your ‘prune and improve stage. Recall there are generally three types of staff that need different coaching and guidance: those that are top performers that you will need to further develop and challenge; the ‘well-placed experts’ and solid performers that will need support and attention and will execute reliably; and those whose performance and potential is lacking and who must step up to continue in their role. With these three groupings identified, ensure you lay out crisp plans for all three groups and execute against them.

If this is an area where you would like to improve, I do recommend leveraging the book FYI: For Your Improvement. It is a seminal work on the 65 professional competencies and provides good descriptions and examples of each competency (or a weakness) as well as thoughtful suggestions and coaching on how to improve that particular competency. It can be a very good assist to writing effective reviews and improving your coaching.

The most critical part to any development is enabling your team to take on new assignments and responsibilities. These can occur based on new corporate initiatives, additional scope or responsibilities or through rotational assignments. One tendency, particularly prevalent in large organizations, is to ‘pigeonhole’ current talent into the work they have done previously. If you have someone that you have ranked as having potential and who is a good performer, I would suggest that with the right coaching and investment in training, they are likely to be successful in different roles. As a good performer, they would have already mastered the culture, relationships and potentially the business knowledge, and thus, adding technical or different skills may not be that large. Obviously, there will be situations where someone who excels in operational roles does not do well in planning or strategy roles, but I recommend pressing boundary here more than not.

So, look to provide new experiences and opportunities so your staff can grow, and be close by to provide coaching, correction and support so you can increase their likelihood of success. But if it is not a fit, again, does not force them to endure, adjust their role back to a sweet spot of their capabilities quickly if needed.

With these measures in place, you will generate a strong team and begin to export your talent (as they are sought out and also encouraged to take on new opportunities outside your organization). With this release of talent, along with normal attrition, you will need to build a bench that extends through the lowest levels in your organization so you can fill the vacancies that then occur. By bringing in graduates and junior staff, you can train and develop them to take on the mid-level positions who can then be trained and developed for the senior level positions. This natural flow, if done well, will then minimize the amount of senior staff you must recruit and bring onboard. Understand though that until you have this bench built, when you are first starting out and have inadequate talent, you can only work your way out of the issue by recruiting the right new talent at all levels. If done well, this should become a reinforcing, virtuous cycle and you can reduce external senior recruitment. Then you will know have built and are able to sustain a championship team.

What techniques would you add or change in the development or coaching process? How do you see this fitting into building championship teams?

Best, Jim Ditmore

About Jim D

Jim has worked in the IT field for over 25 years and as a senior leader for over 15 years. He has successfully turned around a number of IT shops to become high performing teams and a competitive advantage for their companies.
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One Response to Key Steps to a High Performance Team: Coaching and Development

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