As an exec, you’re tired of hearing about the same open items and incomplete tasks. You think to yourself, didn’t we already solve this problem? Or, how on earth is this taking so long?
Frankly, the level of waste and rework from your design team is unacceptable. And you’re hemorrhaging funds.
At the same time, you’re one of the company’s leaders and even you’re at a loss for how to fix this inefficiency problem. Your employees are genuinely talented and dedicated, yet overpaying them isn’t stopping high levels of turnover. And once-trendy dev practices like iterative development still aren’t positioning your products ahead of your competition in the market.
What’s left for you to do?
You’re approaching your team problem all wrong. It’s not about talent, processes, or anything quite so tangible. Instead, it’s about neuroscience, personalities, and culture — and teaching your team to operate with these concepts in mind.
The Telltale Signs of a Struggling Team
Developers think designers change product elements too often. Designers don’t think developers care about anything other than coding. And business folks just want to know what’s taking the designers and developers so long.
But these kinds of clashes are only one symptom of ineffective teams.
Your Turnover Numbers Are Through the Roof
If people don’t want to work for your company, if they don’t find it rewarding, you’ve got a problem.
High turnover rates lead to high HR costs because you have to hire and onboard at a faster clip than expected. Not to mention the costs associated with overpaying employees in an effort to hold onto them — a common tactic among execs that only results in unhappy (and overly expensive) team members.
What’s more, you lose institutional knowledge when you lose an employee. Say your database admin resigns and no one can figure out the logic behind her table indexing. Your team now has to spend valuable time reverse engineering that data. Time that could’ve been spent shipping design updates.
Turnover also has a domino effect. A handful of people leave, there’s panic, and suddenly everyone’s jumping ship.
You’re Shipping at Glacial Speed
Imagine you’re tuning up a used car. You add new tires, install a state-of-the-art sound system, modify the motor — everything you can think of to improve the vehicle. The car is undoubtedly better than it was pre-update, but it can’t possibly be better than a brand new car created with all the latest technology.
Product development is like that, too. Iterative releases — updates to existing products — are important and necessary. However, you will never iterate your way to innovation. And only innovation — shipping new products — makes waves.
If your team is barely eking out iterative updates, that’s a sign it’s time for a change. Otherwise, you’ll never make the kind of impact you want in your market.
How To Fix Your Ineffective Team
Picture this: Your team members actually enjoy working together and learning new things, which nurtures trust and empathy. Trust and empathy make even your most risk-averse employees feel safe enough to take bigger chances. At the same time, because your team is working from collective and collaborative knowledge, the risks are far more methodical and far less likely to fail.
That’s a healthy, high-functioning team in action. How can you get your team running like this well-oiled machine?
Leverage Personality Data To Optimize Team Structure
It’s your responsibility to understand how the people on your team think so you can optimize your team’s structure accordingly.
It’s not enough to organize your teams based on resume skills, grouping designers with designers. In fact, departmental silos severely limit the collective cross-team knowledge base from which employees can extract new ideas (more on this later). Rather, you need to group people together based on their shared motivators, personality traits, and natural talents.
Who are your risk takers? Your innovators? The more conscientious types? The right combination of personalities will unlock a team ready to work harmoniously toward innovation.
We’d wager that, as a company leader, you already have some idea of the personality types of your team members. To get more concrete information, consider one (or a few) of the many personality assessments available:
Once you have a grasp of the personality types of your team members, you might have some tough decisions to make. A baseball coach wouldn’t put a player who can’t catch in the outfield. Put your people where they can do their best work based on their inherent strengths, even if that means reorganizing your company from the ground up.
Nurture a Socratic Culture To Unlock Innovation
If you take your newly optimized team and plop them back into the same old culture, you’ve wasted your time assessing personalities. By the same old culture, we mean consensus culture.
A consensus culture relies on, obviously, consensus. Everyone has to agree before an idea is accepted. It completely stifles innovation. How can people innovate, or even speak freely, when they’re limited to ideas or tasks everyone is on board with?
Socratic culture is much less common than its consensus counterpart, but much more powerful for true innovation. In a Socratic culture, unanimity doesn’t matter. It’s all about open dialogue that encourages everyone to speak up and contribute their expertise. Then, everyone’s collective knowledge is added together to form a huge pool of insights.
Like we said before, you can leverage this collective knowledge to extract new ideas.
But, you have to walk the walk when it comes to Socratic culture or it will never take hold company-wide.
Try approaching a team meeting with Socratic culture principles in mind. Say something like: “We’re going to use our combined strengths to solve this problem. We’re not limiting ourselves by waiting for consensus. Let’s hear what Jen has to say about typography because she’s our design expert. And let’s trust her and each other.”
You should even encourage disagreement.
Remember, the end goal is more and better ideas to power and motivate your new and improved team.
Apply Neuroscience When Communicating with Your Team
We’ve talked extensively about leveraging the neuroscience behind decision making to create more appealing products. What you should also know is that these same principles can be used internally to successfully communicate ideas to your team.
You can dive into the deeper science here. But basically, you have to present new information in a way that doesn’t trigger the brain’s fear receptors in the amygdala. Triggering the fear receptors — aka the fight or flight response — pumps adrenaline into the body and categorizes that new info as threatening.
At the same time, you can’t be so boring that the new information never even makes it past the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex (the high-functioning brain) for serious consideration and meaningful thought.
So, when it comes time to discuss something new with your team, go through this checklist in your mind:
- Will the way I’ve presented this information scare or alarm my team?
- Is it interesting enough that it will prompt deeper thought? Is it something they can get excited about?
- What kind of discussion would I like to foster post-presentation? Am I looking for divergent thought, brainstorming, refinement, etc.?
And don’t keep your methods to yourself. Once you’ve mastered the science behind decision making and you easily leverage that thinking to run your team, share your skillset widely. The more people who take advantage of this type of discourse, the more productive your team will be.
The Future of Team Management is Here
The principles of neuroscience are well-established, and we’ve learned so much about personalities and team dynamics over the past decades. It’s only a matter of time until all teams are built with human nature in mind.
That leaves you with a choice: Be a leader in your own company and in your industry, or play catch up down the line.