How to build—and manage—a self-improving team

My latest in Quartz…

A lot of things in management become clearer when you realize it’s much easier to measure a team’s progress than its state.

A team produces 30 units of “x” in a week. Is this good? Well, we could start by asking what the value of each unit is, or by looking at the contributions of each individual on the team…

Or, we could look at how many units are being produced over time, and whether delivery is getting more (or less) predictable. This will tell us more about the trajectory the group is on. Is the team gelling, working together better, delivering more? Or are members of the team struggling, maybe with a lack of clarity about their mandate, or because they are onboarding new people without the right process in place to support that?

There’s a concept of “self-managing teams,” which I prefer to reframe as “self-improving teams.” Self-improving teams have feedback loops that make getting better over time a team effort; they respond well to failure and learn as much from it as possible, they use estimation as a way to better surface the known—and unknown—unknowns. They invest in collaboration that levels up individuals and the collective.

The question that might emerge from this is, well, if your team does all this on its own, what is the role of the manager? Doesn’t it render you redundant?

Continue reading…