This past year has been an amazing mix of challenges, achievements, and even a few notable disasters. While most organizations have focused on technology and process, the key to success has also depended on understanding the people and personalities involved in doing the actual work. The major business successes of 2012 have been illustrative of the importance and value of leadership excellence. The failures, meanwhile, have shed light on some of the inherent risks, which cause teams to falter, and even fail to achieve their goals. Technology managers need to fully appreciate the impact of group dynamics in order to empower their teams to achieve success. Here are a few things to consider in understanding the year behind us and preparing for the people-related challenges that no doubt await in the year ahead.
2012 was a year in which technology certainly played a vital role in most organizations and this past year was also a year of several high-profile disasters. Many of the more serious incidents demonstrated the importance of effective group dynamics. While Knight Capital Group suffered the most dramatic incident resulting in a one-day loss of over $440 million dollars, there were many other noteworthy incidents involving outages at major banks, international airlinesm and other organizations. Systems outages impacted 911 emergency call systems and may even have played a role in the closely watched 2012 Unites States Presidential election. In all of these incidents, there was a common theme suggesting poor overall team performance, whether related to a lack of communication, inadequate testing, or myriad of other lapses.
This was also a year in which many more teams explored agile development practices. Agile development, especially when using the scrum methodology, places a high value on self-managed teams. That said, self-managed teams (or “semi-autonomous work groups”) have been around a very long time, pre-dating the now popular agile movement. Most self-managed teams are responsible for producing a distinct product or service. Teams are usually given authority and responsibility for operating decisions such as setting performance goals and quality standards, assigning work, determining work schedules, work procedures, and evaluating team member performance, among other factors . In self-managed teams, important responsibilities are often shared by team members instead of focused in the team leader. In some organizations, a team leader is appointed by the organization, although it is very common for the leader to emerge from within the group. Self-managed teams are self-organizing and often exhibit a personality of their own, consistent with the culture and norms of the group.
Lessons from this past year include the value of teamwork, including self-organizing teams, as well as the crucial contribution that motivation adds to a team effort. Organizations that valued their employees were usually rewarded by above average performances and business success while siloed organizations were often the ones to suffer from poor communication and resulting systems outages. While process and technology are essential, it behooves all professionals to always keep in mind that the most important resource for any organization is its people capital. Successful managers should always be striving to improve their people skills in order to understand and motivate their employees to performance excellence.