Creating High Performing Teams in a SaaS Company

By Dr. Patrick Desbrow, Ed.D. – CIO and VP  of Engineering, CrownPeak


“High performing teams will consistently produce more features with better quality at a faster cadence than other teams of similar size and skill”

Why do we need teams?

Individual contributors can be very productive and perform at high levels in most companies. However, no single contributor can really work alone on very large endeavors. This is most notable in the world of Software as a Service (SaaS) companies. Groups of individuals need to come together into teams. When they work together they begin to collaborate. The collaboration leads to momentum and ultra high levels of productivity. Steven Covey refers to this in his book, “The Seven Habit of Highly Effective People” as Synergy (Habit 6). If people work together in a collaborative way their levels of productivity become greater than the sum total of their individual efforts.

What is a High Performing Team?

A High Performing Team (HPT) is a group of individuals that have reached far greater levelsof productivitycompared to their counterparts in other departments or other companies.

One of the keys to successful software development is building and sustaining a high performance team culture. The benefits are obvious. High performing teams will consistently produce more features with better quality at a faster cadence than other teams of similar size and skill.

How do Technology Managers Create a High Performing Team Culture?

There are a number of well-established steps that technology managers have used to create these types of teams. They can augment their plans in a few critical ways to ensure the best chances for success.The Technology Manager must:

  1. Find alignment with the business goals
  2. Recruit each member with the correct skills and personality traits
  3. Facilitate the team building process based on their leadership style
  4. Surround the team with an Agile process of planning and quality assurance
  5. Create and maintain a culture within the team

How does the team structure align with the company goals?

Each team should have a very specific purpose. This is the primary goal of the team. It should flow directly from on of the strategic imperatives of the business. This alignment between the business goal and the team’s primary goal must be obvious and not appear to be forced in any way. This goal should also be specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time bound or SMART.  For example, “The primary goal of team X is to design and deliver a new user interfacewith 300 defined features in 11 months with a team of 20 dedicated designers and web developers”.

How do you recruit your team members?

Create teams one person at a time. Consider creating a plan that goes beyond the hiring process. Spend the time working with each team member and meet with him or herone-on-one. Put your efforts into building a meaningful relationship. Work with each person tounderstand his or hercareer goals and build a path to help them meet these goals. Take the time to find out what motivated each person. This level of investment will take time but the return on this investment has proven time and again to be one of the major drives of high performing teams.

The Technology Manager must also select the team members carefully. Each member must have the correct technical skills to meet the objectives of the project. That should be obvious. However, it is just as critical for each team member to have the correct personality traits. There are personality tests that can accurately determine a person’s aptitude to work in teams and predict what role they play.Charles Margerisonand Dick McCann developedthe Team Management System.[This systemdefineseight role preferences: Creator-Innovator, Explorer-Promoter, Assessor-Developer, Thruster-Organizer, Concluder-Producer, Controller-Inspector, Upholder-Maintainer, and Reporter-Adviser.The most successful teamshave the correct blend of these roles. The team may not reach its full potential if there are too many or to few of these rolepreferences.

How does the team become high performing?

When you assemble a group of people in a room, they do not magically transform into a team. The Technology Manager must facilitate a process that brings the members together. Bruce Tuchman defined four stages of group development that he considered necessary and inevitable in order for any team to grow. These stages are: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Managers must facilitate this formation of the team. The team forms when they are assigned to the project and attend the first meetings. This could be a sprint planning meeting or a daily standup. It is important that the leader establishes a set of group rules. The storming process will generally occur soon after. Members with test the boundaries and established their position in the team. The teams will naturally perform some duties well and other duties poorly. Managers must work through all of the skill gaps and personality conflicts before norming and performing can occur.

Take a look at your software development teams. Are they performing at the highest levels consistently? If not, consider the methods presented here as a way to audit and improve. Team productivity requires more than planning and execution. The team itself needs the same level of scrutiny to remain competitive in the world of commercial software development.