Richard Kasperowski, a Harvard instructor and author, explores the characteristics and patterns of high-performing teams.
On this episode Harvard instructor, author and speaker, Richard Kasperowski, discusses how to build and maintain high-performing teams in any industry. Richard explores the characteristics of effective teams, such as emotional intelligence and psychological safety, along with the foundational skills, such as regular communication and retrospectives, that create effective teams in any industry. Richard discusses the studies and research behind these theories as well as the best ways to approach implementation.
This episode also covers how creating performant deal teams can maximize value post-close and enable continued success.
Kasperowski is a Harward teacher, a consultant, and a coach whose primary area of expertise is building high-performance teams that promise success on a long haul. Starting as a software developer and rising as a software team leader, he has built a solid background of a practitioner and gained experience in team leading and Agile Development.
Being an author of a couple of books that focus around using agile and core protocols in team building, Kasperowski is an expert on using these protocols in increasing overall team performance and success. The tools and he presents in books are an integral part of his approach to clients
He is the creator of a course on agile software development at the University of Harvard, which he teaches. Kasperowski is a professional with rich experience in Open Space Technology who has shared knowledge on Core Protocols, Agile Software development, and Agile Product Development, all of which he uses himself when working with clients.
There are around 200 attributes that correlate to higher performing teams, which are honed down to two main things.
These are psychological safety and team emotional intelligence as teams that measure objectively higher on both tend to be more successful.
Psychological safety allows team members to feel safe with the team and in the workplace. This allows them to feel free to take risks and voice ideas, ask for help or be innovative in their approach to teamwork without fear of being judged or fired.
The second attribute, team emotional intelligence relates to team members governing their behavior properly. Knowing how the organization and the deal team functions creates more space to influence and make a positive impact on a company as a whole.
Teams that measure high on group emotional intelligence also measure high on social capital, which is focused on investing in relationships with other individuals or groups in a way that promises payback in the future.
That being said, deal teams that have good investments in social capital have high executive support and this means that more resources are available and impediments are out of the way. As a result, these teams are higher performing.
Team leaders and company leaders showed interest in psychological safety, and this interest is mostly based on the body of knowledge, which is the body of practice, called the core protocols. Core protocols represent a set of behaviors that are characteristic of high-performing deal teams.
In the 1900s, Jim and Michelle McCarthy observed high performing teams and noticed similar behaviors in all of them. Their aim was to write such behaviors down in order to transmit them on other teams, so they could learn and implement them.
These were written down to become a sort of recipe for success. Although not through academic research, core protocols were then proven to bring success to random teams McCarthy’s did an intervention on.
Kasperowski collaborated with Steve Wolf, a researcher who focuses on team emotional intelligence and they have discovered that mentioned core protocols closely match the measured emergent states, team emotional intelligence, and psychological safety.
Their collaboration did prove that teams who do engage in these behaviors truly measure higher on emotional intelligence and general performance. He mentions that there is a reproducible way to train teams to build new habits in order to see measurable changes when it comes to foundational skills.
High performing teams are groups of people who opt to work on projects they want to work on, and with teammates, they like to collaborate with. In other words, teams are more productive when members get to choose whom, and what they want to work on, instead of being assigned to projects they aren’’ drawn to.
Opting out allows team members to feel safer to express their ideas, say no and manage their time to work more effectively for themselves the team and the company.
Essentially, the possibility to opt-in or opt-out and the freedom this gives is the foundational skill. Foundational skill creates space for building a foundational habit, a habit that allows teams to follow their priorities and opt-out from the project when they need to focus on another, more important one.
When it comes to private equity takeover, applying techniques of high-performance teams and core protocols can raise the capability of the acquired organization. There are a couple of patterns they can use, such as freedom to ask for help, while forcing help is an anti-pattern.
On lesser performing teams there is an element of forcefulness but there is also an inhibition to ask for help when its really needed. This results in stagnation and blocks the progress of the individual and the team as a whole. In high performing teams, team members get unstuck faster as they feel free to ask for help and are open to feedback.
There needs to be natural receptiveness and openness to receive feedback, as high-performing teams create space where members can ask for feedback, instead of having it forced upon them from their boss or coworkers.
This way members get a lot of ideas, everybody is open to sharing and hearing ideas from each other. The focus needs to be on agility and on having a smaller, but highly dedicated team where every member chooses to be part of the team and functions as one large super brain.
Early on, in his software developer career, Kasperowski implemented the idea of inviting feedback. By inviting the feedback by giving people a chance to try the app he and his team were developing, they could make much better forecasts in the future.
This meant that they could accurately prize what the product was going to take to build and that they could prize the deals appropriately based on how predictable they are as a technology group.
The best way to be agile is to use little by little principle, in the sense that the team needs to work faster on creating a product, building it step by step, where every little step is tested by future customers.
Instead of developing the whole product and then getting the feedback once it’s all finished, the principle of agility suggests that is better to test every part of the product as the team builds it. Inviting customers feedback frequently while the product is in the making not only speeds up the process but also gives a better quality product.
As a result, team members, customers, the stakeholders in the company, retail customers and end-users are happier with the final result.
In 2001, a group of professionals got together and laid out a manifesto for agile software development that is focused around the idea that individuals and interactions are more valuable than the process and tools. The point that Kasperowski highlights is that when people interact with each other well, products get better and as a result, customers get more satisfied.
Another focus is on the working product. There is more value to the working product than documentation about what the product might look like in the future. The proof that the team is on the right track and is delivering what customers is that there is a piece of product that works and that customers can touch, try out or experience.
For the project to be successful, there needs to be communication between team members every day and not only when the project is failing.
In the M&A world, this means that there should be a goal to bring agile to the aspect of being utilized in M&A transactions.
Many teams communicate only when there are obstacles or problems on the road to achieving their goals and this leads to being focused on negative feedback all the time, which is not the best foundation for building positive relationships. This is why simple things such as sharing working area and communicating with each other at least once a day.
The fact he points out is that teams get most efficient when they get into the conference rooms and get their minds to solve problems through communicating quickly and effectively. His ideas is to practise communicating every day and share feedback not only when silos occur, but every day.
The idea is to start teaching a team that truly shows interest in Agile and use it later as a success example that will inspire other deal teams and businesses that will naturally opt-in for learning more about it, inspired by that success.
Another way for Agile introduction in a company is to do it using Agile, where there is an agile change team and agile executive team. These are groups of people who are passionate about and understand agile, who are aligned with company goals and interested in unlocking such latent value, and groups of people, the agile change group, who has the influence in the company to affect the change.
The agile change group is usually managers, executives, and directors who can play agile and build the roadmap to previously mentioned step-by-step success and give retrospectives.
However, unlike with the traditional approach, with Agile the retrospective should be done not when the project is finished, but every one or two weeks, while it’s still in the development as it is the only way to receive the feedback fast enough to make important changes and get the team to be more effective.
For the team to become higher-performing, it is crucial to look for ways to unlock its latent value in the organization’s latent value through accumulating and trying out new ideas as frequently as possible. Developing new ideas every week creates compounding interest. This means that the first idea and the improvement that stems from it will compound.
In other words, the first idea and the interest in having made that improvement will compound throughout the rest of the year. The same applies to all the following ideas. For instance, having a new idea every week means having 52 ideas to make things better in a year. As a result of building these ideas, the team will get greater and greater benefits as the year passes by.
Such an approach is far better and far more beneficial than doing a postmortem at the end of the 12th month.
One of the techniques is based on the idea of the Agile change deal team or the executive Agile team. There are the ideas from Juergen Hesselberg’s book ‘’Unlocking Agility’’ from Mike Cohn’s signature series from Addison Wesley. The pattern from the book is having an executive agile change team, a deal team made of people who are familiar with agile and have the influence to affect the changes in the organization.
Another idea from the book is the idea of waves of change. The first wave would be when the team asks somebody from outside of the organization to teach them about agile - what agile is and how to do it effectively. After that comes the second wave, which is forming internal agile groups of people within the organization, building agile trainers and coaches, who are like those outsiders.
Both inviting external speakers and trainers to share knowledge about agile and creating an internal agile community of practice and agile industry groups within the company are great ways to learn about what Agile is and how to implement it within the team and the organization.
The last, third wave is when the team and the company are on a self-sustaining path where they make continuous improvements to make things better and are enacting ideas.
The number one factor that makes the team amenable to an Agile change is interest in giving such change a try. Kasperowski did a simple experiment where he introduced the team he was working with to Scrum. The goal was to improve interaction within the team - to stimulate team members to talk to each other every day. He did so step by step by asking the team to communicate 15 minutes every morning and added project progress trackers on the wall for everyone to see while.
The next step was introducing the team to an idea to make a project plan for a period of two weeks. The crucial point of the experiment is that the author took all the responsibility for these ideas onto himself, which created a safe atmosphere for everyone included to proceed with Scrum - a chance to opt-in without the fear of being fired or judged.
The end result was that team members, stakeholders, the executives in the company and external customers were more satisfied overall.
It’s important to give people a chance to try Scrum try mob programming and try Agile is a safe environment, without imposing it on them. This creates an atmosphere where teams can collect their own data points, reflect, make retrospectives, give ideas and make decisions.
For M&A deal teams, implementing these ideas means daily communication, weekly plans and meeting with the team at the beginning of every week to discuss what team members hope to accomplish, which applies to every M&A project.
What also matters is valuing progress towards the goal, valuing individuals, interactions and making the work visible so that progress is always easy to track. Allowing people to opt-in and choose their priorities is part of agile in the M&A world as well, leaving space for every individual to choose what they think is important and what they work on improves the effectiveness and agility of their work.
Building emotional intelligence within the deal team is about creating a habit to share. It includes sharing ideas, asking for feedback, emotions and having the freedom to feel vulnerable and express it, as it helps build safety and helps the deal team perform better.
There are different types of teams where Agile can be implemented. Kasperowski mentioned dynamic teams, people working on different teams simultaneously and short lived deal teams. These are groups of people who come together for a period of time until the team disbands and its members start working on another project in a new team.
These are the teams where core protocols and previously mentioned habits get really valuable. If there are built in habits for people to form teams quickly and effectively, then they can reteam frequently, quickly and effectively.
Part of these habits is the idea of freely opting in and opting out, sharing thoughts and feelings with team members and colleagues. Once Meeting with each other everyday, talking about project and sharing emotional states is part of everyone’s habit, working together in different team configurations becomes easy.
Once there is a habit, a skill set of communicating and sharing feelings with others, collaborating, conflict resolution and solving problems becomes much easier, asking for help and feedback becomes a safe area of expression and creates space for better team building.
Kasperowski and one of his clients measured that the deal team they were implementing Agile on became 12 percent faster and more productive than they were before Agile was introduced to them. This increase happened in only six months.
For another client, he combined agile technical practices, core protocols and team building together where psych safety and emotional intelligence were measured. The results were incredible, as the team measured 250 percent performance improvements, which is a huge value unlocked just by incorporating agile.
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