On Team Tempo and Barriers to Productivity

By AgileBusiness No Comments


One of the most common barriers to day-to-day agility that people cite to me is excessive time in meetings. A survey by work management software business Workfront (via NOBL) found that more than half of employees they surveyed regarded wasteful meetings as the greatest barrier to work productivity.


We’ve all been there. The trouble with meetings, as we know, comes not only from the reality that there’s just too many of them, but also that they are often over-populated with people who don’t really need to be there, or whose required contribution is minimal, and that they expand to fill the time allotted even if they don’t need to. Paul Graham (Y-combinator founder) once described the difference between a ‘maker’s schedule’ and a ‘manager’s schedule’. Whereas makers (writers, do-ers, creatives, programmers) prefer to use time in units of at least half a day in order to actually create something meaningful, managers typically segment time into one-hour slots. For the latter, a meeting is simply a matter of finding an open slot, but for those operating on a maker’s schedule meetings can be a disaster, since one meeting can blow the whole afternoon by breaking it up into chunks too small to do anything truly productive with. I’d argue that they can be disruptive to anyone trying to take a long run at getting something done. For the same reason that it’s more productive to compartmentalise specific time for email rather than dipping in and out throughout the day, it’s the context switching, as well as the time it takes to have the meeting, that is costly.

And yet meetings are a necessary part of how we move work forwards, so what to do? In the book, we talk about changing the defaults (particularly time defaults) as a way of giving greater respect to people’s time, and removing unnecessary barriers to productivity and moving fast. The guys at NOBL make a good point in saying that most teams need fewer, but better meetings so the trick is to establish shorter, regularly scheduled meetings that have a specific function and focus and that result in clear outputs or next steps. Building this into the fabric of how your teams work and establishing an effective rhythm to the meeting schedule helps mitigate unnecessary time suck. Handily, they’ve produced a nice e-book on ‘Team Tempo’ that looks at the type of meetings that are really required, how often they should be held and how to make them more efficient. Nicely done.

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Employee Experience – The Poor Relation in Digital Transformation

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Employee experience

When it comes to digital transformation, a step-change in focus on customer experience is commonly seen to be one of the key catalysts behind many of the shifts that need to take place in organisational approaches, thinking, processes and structures. And yet there is a critical element of experience that we ignore at our peril – that which we create for our employees.

If digital transformation is truly 10% technology and 90% human, then we need to pay far greater attention to employee engagement as an energiser for change. This should be thought of not as a nice-to-have luxury but a core component of achieving lasting change in a world of continuously shifting contexts. And this is brought into even sharper focus when we consider the huge problem we already have in employee engagement worldwide.

Gallup (who’ve been doing research into this area for years) have conducted a data meta-analysis looking at the relationship between team performance and employee engagement. It’s a big piece of analysis covering 82,000 teams and 1.8 million employees in 230 organisations (across 73 countries and 49 industries). They make the point that whilst studies have long suggested a collective intelligence of teams that goes beyond the sum of the individual team member’s abilities, it has always been difficult to find any reliable predictors for team performance. But their meta-analysis reveals that across a wide variation in industry, market and economic environment the relationship between employee engagement and performance is consistent across 12 key factors. Factors which fit very neatly with the characteristics for employee engagement that we describe in the book, and those that we also propose can create the organisational culture for moving fast.

When the researchers compared the performance metrics of teams that were engaged against those who were actively disengaged they found that the top teams had four times the odds of success compared with the bottom teams. Give me an organisation that would not be willing to focus on factors that can drive such significant gains in performance. In the context of the digitally-empowered world in which we now operate, team performance is absolutely critical. It’s time that a far greater emphasis be placed on employee engagement and the role that employee experience can play in supporting real and lasting organisational change.

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Why HR is critical to an Agile Organisation

By AgileBusiness, Digital Disruption, Disruptive Innovation, Strategy No Comments

As the impact of digital technologies takes hold, those that are steering the transformation of businesses, such as Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) or in some cases the CEOs and CTOs, increasingly need the support of HR colleagues and external workforce solutions providers to help them identify and build the agile and flexible teams they need.

Businesses are also running closer to a ’sprint’ based mentality, where projects are smaller and on a shorter time scale utilising smaller teams with the agility to deliver more quickly.

Add to that Digital transformation programmes which aren’t end to end they’re cyclical and iterative.

This requires agility.

Becoming, or even being, agile is not just a process, it’s a massive behavioural change required by the organisation and it’s employees and contractors.

A recent US study by Randstad highlighted that by 2025 most workers and employers agree that the majority of the workforce will be employed in an agile capacity, either as contractors, consultants, temporary or freelance. The study suggests that by 2019, agile workers could comprise as much as 50% of the workforce vs around 11% today. For some companies this is an easy transition, Microsoft for example has nearly two-thirds as many contractors as full-time employees, for others it’s an entirely new way of working.

There are great benefits to both businesses and employees in having an agile workforce;

For businesses

  • Reduce need for permanent headcount in specific roles
  • Reduce the need for redundancy and layoffs
  • Leverage and flex the availability of skills and expertise
  • Increase speed of getting stuff done
  • Challenge ‘corporate’ thinking and assumptions with outside ideas

For Employees

  • Potentially better work / life balance.
  • More opportunity and flexibility
  • Potentially a better negotiating position (skill dependent)
  • More choice
  • Better career growth than working as a permanent employee.
  • Better job security (providing your very self motivated)

To remain competitive, companies will need to rely on ‘agile’ talent and other resourcing arrangements to quickly expand and contract or flex capability in order to be able to focus on the tasks at hand. There will be a need to embrace this higher percentage of agile talent and capability and treat it like an internal resource and not one that has always been seen as separate and less essential to a companies strategy or competitive advantage.

HR leaders, who are already stretched and in some cases already part of that agile workforce themselves, will need to turn their attention to this flexible workforce and to external workforce solutions providers to help identify, attract, and retain critical talent.

Talent pools and more specialist teams of people who can work together at short notice will spring up and make themselves available either dirctely or through thrid party platforms, and they may be the new kids or ‘agencies of talent’ on the block. This is something I have personal experience of, and the need for, drawing teams of specialist consultants or contractors together to meet the needs and requirements of delivering smaller, more agile, complex projects quickly for strategy through to deployment solutions.

Organisations and more specifically HR will need agility in their strategic decision making to anticipate these talent needs, adjust in real-time and utilise workers from a variety of employment arrangements. Establishing a culture of ‘flexible’ talent development to ensure their organisations have a sustainable pipeline of agile talent that meets the needs of a business that’s flexing and fluctuating to the changing environment around it.

Flexibility and Focus are key themes in our book

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The High EQ Organisation

By AgileBusiness No Comments

Digital transformation and agile business is not just about technology. It is, of-course, as much (if not more) about the people and the culture. Yet simply having smart people in the business is not enough to guarantee success. It is, of-course, as much (if not more) about how those people work together. Which is why I really liked this post by Henry Ward, CEO at eShares, about the high EQ (emotional intelligence) organisation.

Most of the problems faced by his company, says Ward, are not from want of being smart enough but are instead EQ problems, deriving from how they engage with one another:

‘A high EQ organization is a community of free-flowing ideas, daily progress, and accelerating execution. Teams execute well because they love working together. And teams love working together because they execute well. EQ and execution are reinforcing.’

I think Ward’s observation about his own company might apply to many. Low EQ companies are full of friction, agendas, politics.

In the book we talk about the importance of building the culture to move fast and what it really takes to do this. A key component of this is creating the kind of atmosphere of trust that can enable real collaboration. Put simply, internal politics slows everything down.

Yet as Ward notes, we tend to overvalue IQ and under-value EQ. High EQ is competitive advantage. Low EQ is the enemy of agility.

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