I’m seeing a lot more burnout at work for many reasons, all of them very disturbing. It’s bad for the employer because people become disengaged, productivity suffers, stress increases all around, sickness levels increase and retention suffers. It’s clearly bad for the individuals and their families and it’s also bad for the team as a whole, burnout spreads.
I’m a strong believer in team working, a good team makes work a joy, but unfortunately many teams fail to achieve their potential mostly because people confuse teams with people who sit together, or do the same type of work, work on the same project, or talk on the phone one a week in a team call. Even when a team is real it’s often not given the right tools to help spot, manage and prevent the early signs of problems and then to go way beyond problem solving to create a healthy environment where all team members are flourishing. There are dozens of things that contribute to a great team, but for this blog post I’m just going to pick one, qualitative team health metrics.
I think it’s a great idea for a team to get together and design a set of qualitative metrics that they think are important to helping them flourish as individuals and as a team. In a company with many teams it’s best to start out with a template, and then let individual teams innovate from there.
So lets get started with considering what might be included in a template, keeping it simple we might ask all team members to score how they feel week each week in a number of areas on a scale of 1-5 :
- How stressed are you feeling?
- How is your health?
- How frustrated are you?
- How over worked are you?
- How under worked are you?
- Is work improving?
- Do others in the team support you?
- Do you know what’s expected of you?
- Do you need more skills/training?
- Are you happy with your working environment?
- Are you happy with your IT/phone equipment?
- Are you unhappy with quality of the service you are able to provide to your customers?
It’s important that the team takes ownership of this list, it’s the things they feel are important for them to thrive and the team to succeed. When I’ve instigated reporting on similar areas weekly the individuals have generally found it very useful and leaders even more so. You can make the reports actionable by saying:
- A score of 3 or less can be managed by the individual/team or during routine reviews
- A score of 4 needs proactive in the next few weeks
- A score of 5 needs action this week
This sort of reporting starts to get incredibly valuable when it’s aggregated into a spread sheet so that you can see everyone’s results at a glance and see trends. You can then see issues developing in the team long before you see them reflected in other metrics or being surfaced in discussions. For example:
- At the start of a project you might expect to see low scores for question 8 but if this persists for more than a few weeks, or worse increases then you have a project with poor requirements, architecture or design
- If you see high scores for question 7 then your culture needs work
- If you see stress levels and frustration increasing then watch out
Managers often claim that they know their teams, unfortunately they often miss the soft issues and people don’t like talking about them. Providing them with a quick and simple way of quantifying their satisfaction and providing them with a way to cry for help makes a difference.
Also important is the insight that senior leaders can get with a single glance into the ‘health’ of a function or project, using the people as a lens. They can see a project manager putting a team under too much pressure, they can see a team start to worry that quality is slipping, they can see one team progressing at the expense of another.
In all the big teams I’ve run have tacked these indicators onto the end of a traditional weekly highlight report, everyone in the team sends a copy to their peers and to their team leader. Team leaders send aggregated reports to other team leads. A business administrator updates the master spread sheet each week, the results get pinned to the wall. Of course a web site might be more efficient, but regardless of the way the metrics are captured they take less than a couple of minutes a week.
Depending on the culture aggregated reports might need to be anonymised. The spread sheet for a team within a project going off the rails would look like this, something is very wrong in Team A.
I wrote the first version of this post in Caffe Nero in Kendal, the picture at the top right is of the bridge over the river Kent. I took the picture from my bike as I was returning from a week long break in the North Lake District and reminiscing about how to manage big teams well. This is a new version of the post, updated and refocused a little so that it’s relevant to all types of teams, not just project teams.