The Qualities of a High Performing Team

An organization cannot go far without the right people aligned and working the right way. Building high performing teams requires the following key elements:

  • Proper hiring
  • Proper training
  • Alignment of people and processes
  • Having goals and managing performance
  • Creating a good culture

Proper Hiring

Hiring is very important and also very difficult to get right. Software companies, in particular, have a hard time since there are many employment opportunities for people. In the last couple of years, employment rates throughout the country have been very high, making this an even harder task.

Hiring must be treated as a strategic activity and not something just left to an HR department. It should be reviewed in executive meetings and should command the attention of the key leaders of the organization.

Key activities here include:

  • Understanding the overarching hiring principles of the executive team. Are you looking for a certain type of person for a given role? Does your current stage in the company demand certain traits in people?
  • Understanding your hiring priorities by department.
  • Holding your hiring team (whether internal or external) accountable to metrics. How many resumes are you being presented a week? How many offers are being made? How high are the incoming salaries compared to people existing in the company in similar roles?
  • Keeping track of hiring costs. Are you relying too much on external recruiters? Have you considered restructuring your contracts with them?

Proper Training

So many companies overlook this element of hiring. We hire experienced people and assume that they can hit the ground running given their experience. But do you know your company values, principles, and direction? Good on-boarding practices are usually considered the hallmarks of “mature” companies that have a lot of resources. But all companies must focus on this crucial area.

Key activities here include:

  • Creating an on-boarding curriculum by department. This doesn’t have to be elaborate but your operational leaders should have a playbook. As an executive team, you should have some consistency among departments on key areas of direction.
  • Accounting for the overhead of on-boarding on existing activities, particularly if you are facing a high-staff growth situation.
  • Creating a probation period with specific outcomes should your new hire not meet certain expectations.

Alignment of People and Processes

People and process alignment are very difficult tasks and require ongoing attention. It’s very common particularly for small companies to have poorly defined processes about how certain things are done. As a company starts out, it is common to have people playing multiple roles. As new employees are added to the organization, you start having overlap between departments and confusion prevails. Your IT systems play a very big role here, as well. Key activities include:

  • Having a good understanding of your most critical activities: sales process; close process; customer on-boarding process; payment management; customer support; customer off-boarding.
  • Ensuring you have the right systems to facilitate the above and allow you proper visibility for managing outcomes.
  • Identifying choke points and considering how to remove them. This is important as you do growth projection for the following year. Are you aware of which area of the above critical processes may break as a result of a high increase in new clients?

Having Goals and Managing Performance

There once was a management fad of implementing “balanced scorecards”, as they were called. It was typically an organization-wide initiative of defining, aligning, and cascading goals throughout the organization. While some companies have implemented this system correctly, it winds up being overly bureaucratic and slow. You also have the problem of managing change in a fast-changing world of software.

However, goal definition and tracking are very important activities. The objective here is identifying what to focus on. Key activities include:

  • Defining a core set of metrics for each functional area (it can be a top-3).
  • Becoming very intimately familiar with what drives these metrics.
  • Tie your strategic growth goals for the year to your metrics.
  • Socialize these metrics throughout the company.
  • Tie team performance to performance in the top-3 metrics. Individual performance is often difficult to tie to a strategic goal as many individuals in the organization are not able to influence a core metric all by themselves. This is easier in some areas than others. Departments like Sales and Support are much easier to quantify and assign specific goals. Other areas, like product management, are much harder to quantify.

Creating a Good Culture

Company culture is a fuzzy concept and yet we all talk about it. In a very broad sense, your culture is defined as “the way we do things here”. It is a hugely important element of success and there is not a single formula. Different companies require different culture and, of course, it is very much driven by the one or two key leaders in the company. Key elements of culture include:

  • The way your founders and leaders behave in public.
  • The written/visible artifacts within the company (e.g., posters, elements of your facilities, decoration, slogans, historical artifacts, etc.)
  • The unwritten. The older the company is, the more of these cultural elements exist. They are made up of stories told in the hallways about past events.

If your culture is already healthy, focus on documenting it and enhancing it. This may involve identifying the key visible and unwritten artifacts, documenting them, and ceremonializing them.

If your culture needs work, start by understanding what doesn’t work and creating a vision for what you are after.  Then actively focus on creating artifacts — again, written and unwritten — that help you move in that direction.

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