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How can teams perform at their full potential?
In 2015, Google conducted an organization-wide study to determine what helped teams succeed. They found team dynamics (or culture) to be the biggest predictor, corroborating findings from many other studies. In this post, we examine the kinds of frameworks that help organizations succeed — and help you evaluate your own organization’s culture.
Focus: Culture, CI/CD and DevOps
The Continuous Delivery movement is taking over the software delivery world. This new philosophy, along with brand new DevOps practices are setting new standards for organizational performance.
The book Accelerate is based on extensive research on continuous delivery practices and goes into detail into the technical and cultural practices that create high performing teams. This book and some of the primary sources it references, form the backbone of this article. This is recommended reading for any leader looking to find ways to improve both culture and performance in their team.
What kind is your organization?
According to research by DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) and the Google study referenced earlier, “Psychological Safety” is a major predictor of organizational success.
It came as no surprise that high-trust organizations that treat their people well are best placed for success. Below is a table with which you can evaluate your own team, and see what kind of organization you’re working in.
Use this questionnaire from Google to survey your teammates anonymously and get the answer for your own team. Here’s the prevalence of these organization types from a survey:
- Generative or Self-Directed were 21% of teams and are usually the highest performing.
- Bureaucratic environments were 48% of teams and are usually medium performers
- Pathological or Toxic work environments were 31% of teams and are known to perform the worst.
At Nirvana, our goal is to build software that helps break down bureaucracy and enables self-directed teams to perform at their full potential. But if you’re in a Pathological team that offers low psychological safety, it would be good to reference this research and ask your manager this question:
How to improve culture
Improve Technical Practices
Improving Technical Practices are the first step to improving company culture. CI/CD practices emphasize high-quality, high-frequency, low-risk releases to the customer. Sure, this improves the quality of your software, but why does it improve culture?
Think of it this way: A disruption (or bug) in your software causes disruption (a bug?) in your team. Because as soon as your product stopped its smooth functioning, your team had to spring into action, and its smooth functioning was also interrupted.
This is why implementing technical practices that improve the quality of your output is the first step to improving culture. Research shows that better delivery practices are highly correlated with developer happiness and team performance.
So, what is continuous delivery? Here are 3 key principles:
Invest in quality – Test & deployment automation, observability and other DevOps practices are paramount.Automate repetitive tasks – People should solve problems, not do repetitive, automatable tasks.Work in small batches – The Principles of Product Development flow emphasizes this point more than any other. We should split work into very small chunks and ship early and often.
If you’re struggling with the last 2, try Nirvana!
Minimize Deployment Pain
While this is a part of technical practices, the idea of “Deployment Pain” or “Deployment Anxiety” requires its own section. Deploying new code to your customer is an important event – new software is reaching your customer. This should be cause for celebration! But is it?
If you’re building features your customers want desperately, you should be happy that you created impact, and that you solved problems. But are you anxious that you might break something instead?
With just the experience of this one event, you should be able to understand the health of your team’s software delivery practices. Everyone should be shipping early and twice as often, but they won’t if the act of shipping is always connected with a feeling of anxiety.
If this is a problem for your team, it means that your deployment process is complex and unreliable. It’s time to build a fully automated deployment process. Here’s a guide to get started.
Unproductive, wasteful work, and toxic, pathological organizations are the leading cause of burnout. This feeling of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion should be fought in every way possible in favor of employee happiness and a feeling of accomplishment.
Creating a generative culture described above is a good first step to reducing the risk of burnout. Employees should have the authority to make decisions that affect their work and their jobs, especially in areas where they’re responsible for the outcomes.
In this paper by researchers at UC Berkeley, these were found to be the leading reasons for burnout:
- High Workload
- Inability to influence decisions that affect your job
- Insufficient rewards, whether social or monetary
- Unsupportive work environments
- Lack of fairness in decision-making processes
- Mismatch in value systems
We sincerely hope that none of these apply to your workplace. If the only problem is that workloads are high or expectations are unrealistic, Nirvana can fix it.
At the end of the day, treating people well is the only winning strategy. When individuals solve problems and meet their full potential at work, it will reflect in their collective performance.
And if your team is doing tasks that don’t demand their creativity, or if they’re spending time on tasks that don’t directly create impact for your customer, these tasks should be automated.
Previously published at https://nirvana.work/posts/happy-high-performing-teams
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