The power of small teams by Avi Muchnick
Choose a project that is simple to implement. Don’t try to create a complex suite of applications… Focus on solving a single problem. Philip Kaplan made email more efficient to use by stalling it instead of managing it. Dead simple approach and a great idea.Take the easier approach when possible.
Choose people that can wear multiple hats. Can your designer code? Can your programmer manage a community? Can your marketing guru fund raise? Can one guy do it all?
All documentation should be available via a central location. A wiki can work really well for this purpose. Good documentation lessens the loss from communication failures.
Arrange your workspace in common areas. Segregating your team in different offices is a recipe for lost communication data and with it, a need for additional people. You’d be surprised at how many roles can be shared by multiple people, so long as they have the ability to communicate instantly and unimpeded with each other. Put people between walls, and those shared tasks will need to be managed by additional team members.
Amazon and Google do a lot with small teams and I think they have it right. I have worked on small IT teams for several years now and find it great. Combine with agile management methods small teams allow for great focus (you are naturally guided toward appropriate project sizes instead of huge monster projects), great results and joy in work. I have no desire to work in large teams.
Related: Team Handbook – Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations – Keeping Track of Improvement Opportunities – Curious Cat Management Articles
Inside TPS at Toyota, Georgetown, Kentucky [the broken link was removed] by Ralph Rio:
Toyota believes people need to be intimately involved with the process to understand how to improve it. The team member writes the standardized work they use because the person performing the work is the true expert. People are trusted to understand the process and improve it.
Automation is used but is seen as a tool for helping people manage the process. This can be contrasted with the effort by GM in the 1990’s to spend billions of dollars on robots to save personnel costs.
Both Toyota and GM seek to use technology to improve but Toyota sees the technology as useful to help people to be more efficient, eliminate menial repetitive tasks, eliminate tasks that cause injury… and it seems to me GM saw technology as a way to eliminate people. The action showed a company that viewed people as a cost to be eliminated. GM did not act as though people were their “most important assets” as we so often hear, but see so little evidence of in the action of companies.
In response to: Why executives order reorgs [the broken link was removed]
“We trained hard… but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion; inefficiency, and demoralization.”
These lines, from the Satyricon of Petronius written 2,000 years ago…
Unfortunately it seems this quote is not actually his [the broken link was removed. Peter Scholtes first told me this quote wasn’t accurate, when he was in the process of researching it for his book, The Leader’s Handbook]. Instead apparently someone attributed the quote to him to give it the weight of time. I think that the sentiment expressed rings true speaks to the experience of many.
The Improvement Guide: the Practical Approach to Enhancing Organizational Performance, is an excellent handbook on making changes that are improvements rather than just a way to create the illusion of progress. The book uses three simple questions to frame the improvement strategy.
- What are we trying accomplish?
- How will we know that a change is an improvement?
- What changes can we make that will result in improvement?
The second questions if rarely used. Without that question it is much easier to make vague statements that seem like reasons to change and why it would be an improvement. But if you have to document how you will know the change is successful it makes it more difficult to change for just the appearance of improvement.
Once the organization does that regularly, the next step is to actually measure the results and validate the success or failure of the improvement efforts.
The Power of Teams, by Lynn Witten (broken link removed):
>Train team leaders and members. It is critical to provide training and guidance to people on how to function as effective team members and leaders. In addition, problem-solving training can give teams and team leaders a structured approach to finding solutions. It can help teams overcome members’ natural defensiveness and finger-pointing.
Evaluate incentive systems. Many incentive systems have been established to reward individual effort or effort from one functional area. In team-based systems, rewards need to recognize the impact of a team’s performance on the whole system.