When Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” he was advocating that organizations could improve their performance through better metrics. I would argue that Drucker got it right, but that he should have added “and what you measure matters the most.” Many teams fail to measure the most critical predictors of their effectiveness over time – the health of the relationships between team members and across teams. Unlike ‘rear-view mirror’ KPI’s such as unit sales or milestones achieved, or forward-looking indicators such as sales funnel size and shape, understanding the health and direction of key relationships predicts longer-term team effectiveness – it’s like having radar for your team.
A short historical aside: The history of radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging) can be traced to late 19th century research demonstrating that metallic objects reflect radio waves. By measuring the timing and direction of the radio wave signals, a radar operator could determine the location of the target object.
In the early 20th century, these new radar systems were first used in ships as a simple detection device intended to help avoid collisions in fog. WWII brought rapid advances in radar technology, with radar playing a vital role in that conflict. Today, more advanced versions of the original technology are used in applications ranging from medicine and astronomy, to semi-autonomous and self-driving cars.
Measuring What Matters
The nature of team work has evolved rapidly over the last 25 years. The decline of organizational hierarchy, and the rise of global, cross-cultural work, has multiplied the challenges of building and leading teams. The narrative of exceptional team leaders in the 21st century is one of learning to be effective in flat, cross-cultural, virtual organizations.
Being a successful 21st century team demands a focus on the health of important team relationships and the motivations and emotions that drive them. The relationship metrics that every team leader should be using are:
- Experience-expectation gaps. A measure of the size of any gaps between each team member’s expectations versus their experience with other team members, the team leader, and other teams in relation to the support they are receiving to achieve team and individual goals.
- Team relationship strength. An aggregate, comparable measure of team relationship strength. Strong relationships are based upon highly-positive experiences with high expectations. Weak or impaired relationships are characterized by negative experiences or low expectations, and neutral relationships are those that don’t have a strong effect on people’s experiences positive or negative.
Tracking the progress of actions to close experience-expectation gaps and improve team relationship strength is the key to building the habits that lead to greater team effectiveness and improved team member well-being.
Long Range Radar – The Example of Virtual Teams
All teams face challenges in their quest to be effective. Virtual teams face greater complexity and uncertainty as they strive to overcome the barriers of time, distance, and communications. When successful, virtual teams enable the best talent to come together to amplify energy, competencies, and creativity. But, with increased geographical, time zone, and cultural distances, the challenges to developing highly-effective virtual teams are significant. Research on the effectiveness of virtual teams clearly shows the critical importance of ensuring team members have a shared understanding of team goals, and that team leaders foster and maintain strong trusting relationships. The challenge for virtual team leaders is developing trust and understanding among virtual team members who have little opportunity to interact face-to-face.
Building trust and understanding across time zones and cultures requires that team leaders amp up their team radar – frequently gathering feedback from all team members on their expectations versus their actual experiences on the team, understanding gaps, and constantly closing them across the key relationships. Most importantly, virtual team leaders must ensure healthy team norms that support a high-degree of conversation equality and psychological safety. Early warning of any breakdown in understanding or trust is essential to preventing the deterioration of relationships that lead to disengagement, and in fostering team member well-being.
Turn on Your Team Radar
The nature of team leadership is rapidly changing as leaders are tasked with building teams in increasingly flat organizations that operate across generational, cultural, and geographic boundaries. As organizations become more dependent on teams for their success, a team leader’s ability to identify potential issues before they diminish team performance and well-being has become more critical than ever. Turning on your team’s radar and using it to track the health of key relationships, adds a critical capability and measurement that is missing on many teams. Building upon the wisdom of Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it, and what you measure matters the most.”