Successful teams don't just happen, they're built and measured.
This article presents the 7 indicators that you can use to measure your team's success and achieve your goals. We'll also share with you the team success system we've built over the years to help teams and organizations thrive by maximizing team self-awareness and resilience.
Building successful teams requires ongoing assessment of progress toward the defined goal of success. Measuring success, once we have a clear idea of what success means to us, helps teams stay on the right path and make the necessary adjustments along the way.
Sadly, many organizations only care about the success of their teams when things start to go wrong. For instance, if a team fails to deliver a new feature on time or doesn't have the expected impact by the end of the quarter, the organization may start to react and think about how to boost the team's performance.
In these moments of tension and failure, companies realize that they have neglected the well-being of their teams. They quickly find that they're in the dark about the team's current state. Some even realize they have never defined what is team success. The system to support team success is missing.
Create a system that holds your vision
To avoid reactive approaches and constant firefighting, organizations need to have a system in place that supports their vision for team success. This is where the concept of "coaching the system, not the people" comes in. Rather than focusing on micromanaging individuals and teams, focus on building a supportive and motivational environment through effective systems.
A system is a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole. Think for instance about the state railway system in your country. The structure of the whole railway system has been chosen from an infinite amount of existing options and defines how trains operate. Other examples of systems are the Metric System and the Imperial System. Both of them are systems of measurement that define some base units of length, capacity, and weight that unify the way we think about measuring.
In the same direction, as Michael E. Gerber explains in The E-Myth Revisited, it's key that every organization sets up its systems to achieve success. Every organization must have systems in place to ensure its scalability and consistency. When we talk about organizational systems we're referring for instance to systems for personal development in the organization, systems for sharing feedback and improving, or systems for enabling team success.
By setting up systems, we avoid relying too heavily on the owners or employees, and we can instead create a self-sufficient system that runs smoothly and effectively. We can't stress enough how important is for every organization to create a supportive and efficient set of systems for employees to work within, rather than simply trying to motivate or improve individuals. By coaching the system, organizations can improve processes, create a better work environment, and ultimately drive better results. If you want to dive into the idea of coaching the system, The Lean Manager: A Novel of Lean Transformation, by Freddy Balle and Michael Balle, and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink, are great references to consider.
To build successful teams you need to build a system for team success. You need to provide teams with a self-sufficient system to achieve success by themselves. The team success system that we've built measures team success regularly, and that's why we will begin by introducing the 7 indicators we created to measure team success. Then, we will also explain how to measure the 7 indicators, and we'll end up by sharing with you Sense On The Beach's team success system.
Building the 7 indicators to measure team success
The 7 indicators of team success will come from our definition of team success. We will define 2 indicators for measuring the team's value delivery: one for outputs and another one for outcomes. The remaining 5 indicators will be used to measure the 5 characteristics of team health: Psychological safety, dependability, structure & clarity, meaning, and impact.
To define each indicator, we will create a sentence to define what means to be successful as a team for each of them.
One indicator to measure team outputs
The truth is that most teams we've worked with had a clear set of outputs defined, a set of tasks they had to do to achieve a goal during a 2-week sprint, a quarter, or a year.
Measuring a team's output is about measuring how successfully a team is delivering the work they have to do. This can be measured in different ways depending on the methodology that the team is using to deliver work. We will dive into this topic in future articles, follow us if you don't want to miss any content.
What's important for now is to define what is successful output delivery. We define it as follows:
We consistently deliver all the work that is expected to be done. We deliver work at a pace that both feels fast and can be sustained over time without exhaustion.
One indicator to measure team outcomes
Measuring outcomes is a different story. It's usually harder to find teams with clear outcomes defined. And it's heartbreaking to see how a large number of organizations still fail at working with a proper outcome mindset.
It's essential to define what we want to achieve, and the impact we want to generate. If we don't have a clear vision, it's highly improbable that the work we deliver will bring us to a successful place. Besides doing an outstanding job as a team to deliver what we expected to deliver (output), it's equally important that we generate the impact we're aiming for (outcome).
If your organization is still not focused on outcomes, think about sharing several copies of the book Measure What Matters: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth with your colleagues, and, once everybody has enjoyed this must-read reference, start a conversation on how to get closer to an outcome mindset.
If you are lucky and you already have outcomes defined in the team, then measuring outcome delivery success refers to understanding how close the team got to the impact they wanted to generate. Measuring outcome delivery success is pretty straightforward if the outcomes that you have defined contain numbers that can be measured. Reaching a 3% increase in users is very easily measurable just because we have a number we can track and compare with. If you have doubts about defining better outcomes, reading about OKRs can be a good path to start with.
We define what is successful outcome delivery as follows:
We consistently generate the impact that we expect to generate. We define ambitious impacts to reach and we work together to find the best ways to reach them on time.
Five indicators to measure team health
Hopefully, you've already thought about what team health means to you. If you need some inspiration, we already shared what we consider fundamental for a team to be healthy.
There are many ways to express the health of a team and we recommend adapting this to the culture of your organization. We've facilitated many successful sessions with teams and organizations to define team health, and it's been rewarding to see the positive impact of aligning the definition of team health with the unique identity of each organization.
We define the 5 indicators for team health as follows:
We feel safe to be vulnerable and take risks in the team, knowing that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else.
We feel that everybody on the team can depend on anybody else. In the same way, anybody else from the company can depend on us as a team.
We have clarity of our roles in the team and the processes we use to work as a team. We have clarity of the expectations that exist of us as a team, and also about our goals.
We all feel that we're doing meaningful work and we find a sense of purpose in what we do.
We all feel that the work we do matters and generates a positive impact.
As promised, you already have the 7 indicators of team success. You may have also realized that we're already building the system: we have defined some expectations around value delivery and team health through their definitions that we want our teams to live by.
Measuring success with the team success wheel
It's time to explain how to use the 7 indicators to measure team success. For each of the 7 indicators of team success, we define four levels in the journey toward success: Failure, Neutral, Success, and Consistent Success. We visualize the final set of indicators and levels with our Sense On The Beach's team success wheel:
The definition of the four levels of our team success wheel is as follows:
- LEVEL 1: Failure. We (as a team) feel that we're failing at this indicator. We feel very far from the definition of success of the indicator and it should be a priority for us to improve it if we want to be successful as a team.
- LEVEL 2: Neutral. We (as a team) feel neutral about this indicator. We don't feel we're being successful but we wouldn't say we're failing at it.
- LEVEL 3: Success. We (as a team) resonate with the definition of success of this indicator and we feel like we're achieving it.
- LEVEL 4: Consistent Success. We (as a team) will never be perfect, but we consider that we're managing to keep this indicator in a consistent state of success. Our only goal is to ensure that we maintain this consistency.
To make sure we treat team success as a never-ending journey (there are no such perfect teams), we define the fourth level, Consistent Success, to be only accessible if there's consistency in the success in that indicator. Only if the team has been successful in several consecutive measurements will be able to access the fourth level. And, as soon as consistency is lost, the team will fall from the fourth level, needing several new consecutive measurements to access it again. This number of consecutive measurements will vary from organization to organization.
With the levels defined for each indicator, we can now use the team success wheel to measure team success at a point in time. To obtain a team success measurement, we recommend celebrating a session with the team to reflect together and conversate about each indicator. In future articles, we'll dive into how to build a solid system to assess team success by using all the possible perspectives, if you're interested please subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you won't miss it.
To measure each indicator, the question to the team will be:
We also recommend that somebody from outside the team facilitates the session, creating a safe space and taking into account the importance of generating conversations that are effective to end up having a measurement for each indicator. The goal isn't to get the average measurement from all the team members but to get to the final measurement after an insightful conversation is held and all the perspectives are considered.
That's it. That's all you need to generate one team success measurement. We've just shared with you the result of many years of working close to teams and helping companies to grow with sense. Sense On The Beach's team success wheel holds two important principles that we learned were essential after helping many companies:
- Both the team's value delivery and the team's health are equally important. The two of them must be measured with the same level of importance.
- Our team success wheel puts consistent success as the main goal for teams to achieve. We want our teams to be successful consistently.
But wait, is this already the full team success system that we can implement to hold consistent success in any team? It's not. Measuring is just the input to the system, let's talk about the rest.
Sense On The Beach's team success system
Why do we measure team success? because we want our teams to be successful consistently. Consistency is the key. A single measurement of team success with perfect results means nothing unless it's sustained over time. We want consistent positive trends of success.
If you want to better understand the importance of consistency in achieving success, we recommend the books "Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones", by James Clear, and "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", by Stephen Covey.
To maximize team consistency, we need to understand first that perfect teams don't exist. Our goal (the goal of the system we're implementing) has nothing to do with building perfect teams and keeping them consistently perfect forever. If you want to build a perfect team you should be looking somewhere else.
A successful team, like every other team, will exhibit some indicators that are better than others, and, far from perfection, the only difference with a non-successful team will be the team's resilience, the capacity of the team to recover quickly from difficulties and rebuild a consistent path.
We can build resilience in our teams by making sure that we have available all the success indicators to keep our teams self-aware and ready to adjust to whatever needs to be faced. Team self-awareness is built thanks to each measurement of team success, and resilience is maximized with the constant focus on improving what we need to improve the most, always rebalancing our consistency around success.
As we measure team success, indicators can (and surely will) go down even if the team pays attention to them. And it’s okay, it just means that is time to focus more on them again, exploring the underlying reasons why the trend has changed and looking for ways to improve it again, and all of this with self-sufficiency. Especially in tech environments, with constantly changing team setups, variable expectations, and pivoting goals and direction, things will fluctuate A LOT.
To ensure that we keep resilience as part of the system, every measurement needs to come together with a space to:
- Reflect on the inputs received by the measurement of team success.
- Prioritize the indicators that need more dedication in the present situation to maximize the team's success.
- Define actions to improve the current priorities, together with a clear process to keep the actions present in the day-to-day of the team.
Making the team resilient is as important as measuring team success. If we measure something but we do not act on it there will be no change. Incorporating a team success system like this one into any team is essential. It will become the compass that will help your teams:
- to be self-aware and understand how successful they are, and
- to be resilient by surfacing what needs to be improved over time and asking the team to be self-sufficient and act intentionally on the things that they need to improve the most continuously improve.
The only way to ensure team success is to maximize team self-awareness and resilience. We don't want 1 second of success, we want lifelong stories of consistent team success.
To start measuring team success with this system, we recommend setting up its cadence to once per quarter, it’s a great opportunity to close each quarter by:
- measuring the current team's success, and
- reflecting on how to improve as a team for the following quarter.
Defining a system means defining every detail you want to hold (periodicity, boundaries, expectations, etc.). With this system, you will help teams to understand their success journey and the existing expectation to continuously work on it. It’s not a binary state, it’s a complex concept. Like our own lives, we're never 100% successful at everything. It’s about gaining self-awareness and acting on the things we want to improve next.
By creating a system that supports your vision, continuously measuring progress, and focusing on both value delivery and team health to measure team success, you'll be on your way to building the needed environment to hold consistent success in teams.
To start measuring team success right now, take Sense On The Beach's team success system and the indicators we presented as they are. Use the team success wheel we shared with you. Try it, learn from it, and adapt it to end up building the team success system that will help you drive your teams toward consistent success. And follow us if you don't want to miss any updates on this topic.