Sunday, October 2, 2011

Team Productivity - 10 ways to ensure that your team members excel and grow

This post is about the softer skills of software test management. It is about how to have your people excel in their jobs. It is something about which I feel strongly. The end result of a project is not the only important thing. Even more important is the career benefit to your team member. Is it possible to run a project such that throughout the project, your team member matures his skills, his attitude and his professionalism? Executing projects consistently like this will ensure that your team member grows professionally. Better performance on subsequent projects will be a given. So, how does a test manager go about having their team members excel and grow? It's not easy. It's also not very difficult. Here is how.


1. Know your team member's career objectives: Every time you start working with a team member with whom you have not worked before, set aside some time for a frank discussion. You may already have some data about their strengths/ weaknesses and past performance. However, have them mention their prior experiences in their own words. Observe the things they talk about and the things they focus upon. Avoid judging them at this time. Ask them about their passions and interests. Find out the situations that challenge them. Know the things in which they pride. Take notes to refer later.

2. Determine his preferred learning style: People have different favorite styles when it comes to learning new things. One person may prefer reading the new material, another may prefer having someone talk about it and another may prefer experimenting with it. Knowing your team member's preferred learning style will enable you to decide the best option, give them time to read new material, organize a classroom training or give them time and resources to play with it. Also, your own preferred learning style may be different from your team member's. So, do not impose your preferred style on him.

3. Identify his favored working style: Different people have different favored working styles. A team member may prefer crisp and clear instructions; another may prefer an outline to decide the details himself. One person may be fast (and mistake-prone) and another may be slow (but thorough). One team member may prefer being assigned only one task and another may be quite comfortable with multiple tasks with varying priorities. One may be able to maintain focus on the given task and another may need periodic reminders. When executing the task, one person may communicate regularly with you and another may give you infrequent updates. Understanding your team member's favored working style will enable you to know what to expect from him as "normal".

4. Remember that every individual is unique: Understand the motivations, challenges and favorite styles of your team member will enable you to deploy him on project tasks that benefit the project and also the team member the most. For example, a technical oriented person would contribute the most to the technical tasks in the project, a fast team member would contribute most to the effort-intensive tasks of the project and a good communicator would contribute most to project tasks requiring co-operation with other teams.

5. For every assignment, ask him to confirm the objectives, approach and deliverables as understood by him: Knowing your team member's favorite working style will enable you to design and communicate an assignment to him in the most helpful way. But, it is possible that some objectives or approach or deliverables are not registered cent percent. So, always ask him to re-iterate these in his own words. This will enable you to identify and close any gaps in understanding them.

6. Don't simplify the work: As a manager, your role is to distribute the work assignments and track them. You may give your suggestions to simplify the work. But, always encourage the team member to think about the challenges, identify appropriate approaches to tackle them and choose the best approach. Providing him ready-made solutions would rob him of this opportunity to grow. Also, increase your expectations gradually. Raising the bar will ensure that you team member does not run out of problems and challenges.

7. Never accept failure as-is: There will be situations in which the outcome is not successful. Even so, such situations will make the team member learn what does not work (well). When faced with failure, provide your team member with the required encouragement and help until he does come up with an acceptable success.

8. Never neglect communication: Regular communication is critical to strong relationships. Keep your team member informed about relevant developments. Contact him from time to time, even if it just to catch up. At least, always be available should your team member wish to contact you for an update, an approval or even as a sounding board for an idea.

9. Maintain a consistent management approach yourself: Your team member should regard you as a fair and trustworthy person, who treats team members uniformly and says and does the same things. So, do not play favorites within the team and do not go after anyone. If you are inconsistent, your team member will be worried and unsure about you and this will impact their performance and growth.

10. Always respect your team member: Finally, always be respectful to your team member. Be ready to listen to him while suspending judgment. The thing about respect is that it's mutual; if you respect your team member, he will automatically respect you. Respect will ensure that your team member stays focused on excelling and growth.

If you are a manager, follow the above 10 points over and over again. You will have an exclusive understanding of your team and you will make prudent business decisions. Also, your team members will grow professionally.
If you are a team member, show these 10 points to your manager. Understanding, open communication and consistently working in challenging situations are sure to make you grow faster.

Image Courtesy: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net