How to get the best out of your teams
In my wildest dreams I never thought that I would become someone that is passionate about grooming, building, and shaping teams. I was introduced to this foreign concept during my first exposure when given an opportunity to set-up a QA desk for First National Bank Data Warehouse in 2016. This is when I discovered the wonderful world called TEAM COLLABORATION.
Whenever I am introduced into a new team, the highest priority is to get to know them.
I have learned a very practical technique that I use whenever I’m introduced to new people. When they say their names, I ask them to repeat it and then I will mentally spell and write their names. Thereafter when I get back to my desk, I will quickly make note of the names of the people I was introduced to and I will also draw a mental map to where they sit. During the week I will review my notes and recall their faces to memory until I can confidently remember their names. By remembering a person’s name and the specific details they have shared with you, speaks volumes to that person. This simple act sends a clear message: I’m interested and I’m present.
It’s important to put time aside to get to know each team member individually. If possible, I will set up one-on-one meetings with team members. This is not an opportunity for pleasantries; instead, I ask each person to be as blatant as possible about their work and their projects. Many people hold back out of fear of retaliation, others will try shock you and get you out of their space, while others shun you and say they don’t have time. When it comes to ‘runners’, I monitor them closely, see when they come in and have free time, and make myself available for a convenient chat.
Getting to know the team and them to know me is an important strategic step. If I can’t do that, I can’t move into their world and speak to them with any authority or gain respect, and I can’t bring anything new into their space or get them to buy into different ways of working. If they don’t buy what I’m there to sell, I have nothing to offer.
My second priority, once we are all familiar with each other, is to assess the teams’ skills.
I am naturally very aware of other people’s traits, behaviours, and feelings. I use this awareness and the information to assess if my team members are happy with what they do. Some people prefer to be left alone to get on with their work, while others want an A to Z explanation of why they should do something a specific way. With the knowledge I gained, I will adjust my approach in work allocation and team responsibilities. Quality comes first, but people are just as important, and a happy person is someone who works well. If I can help them understand why they need to be detailed or follow a specific standards, they will automatically apply it themselves.
My responsibility as a team leader is to teach them why they need to adhere to specific standards of working, how it benefits them as a person, how it makes their work better and how it adds value to the company. For example, if they have a responsibility to report back on their work once a week, I guide them on taking notes, because no one can remember all the ins and outs of what they’ve done a week down the line. Nothing causes more stress in the workplace than getting a call from stakeholders or management asking where you are with A, B, C and D, and not having the answers. Yes, these are basics skills, but you will be surprised how many people don’t use them.
My third priority is to build trust.
I am open for teams to have an opinion or to argue with me on a point, if they can’t be open with me, they don’t trust me. When they push back on an idea or a decision and I cannot bring them around to buy in, I will use the opportunity to turn it around and ask: “How would you do this better?’’ This gives me insight into their thought process in decision making and truly If I can learn from them, I will take it, because I don’t have all the answers. Often by turning the decision process over to them, they get more clarity and understanding where I’m coming from and with that, I have a team that willingly participate.
Ultimately my drive is to create self-organised, self-motivated, confident teams. Self-organised teams get the job done. They don’t need leaders to tap on their shoulders and check in on them. They understand what is asked of them, they are disciplined to keep things on track and can summarise, report and feedback relevant information to stakeholders on time.
Self-organised teams are normally groomed and grown when practicing the Agile methodology (regardless if you are a purist or following a hybrid of Agile). In an Agile team everyone has their responsibility, and everyone has a role to play but no one leaves a team member behind. We as a team must complete the product, and as testers, developers, business analyst and product owners, we drive the sprint to a close together. For me Agile is literally about keeping teams growing.
As a Team Lead I am tasked with the overall responsibility for the test effort and ensuring our successes. My role involves quality and test advocacy, resource planning and management, and resolution of issues that frustrate the test deliverance. None of this can happen without a team. They are the vehicle of our successes. Effective communication, mentoring, leading by example and genuinely caring for them is the key to unlocking a team that becomes self-driven, forward thinking and that fully embrace its roles and responsibilities.