Good Teams, Why Care?

Posted by Alex on July 13, 2018

I build teams. I build teams good. Good teams that do well, and they also do good. Technical teams mainly, but I’m branching out. It’s good.

That’s all well and good, but what is the point?

The point is that good teams are rare. That is to say, a team that you can leave alone, with the trust that they can self-regulate, self-correct and grow without you is very difficult to find, such that the effort to grow one (if you can) is a far simpler thing by comparison.

In a world where everyone says they put users first, but very few actually walk the talk, you need teams like this. You need them because there is simply too much stuff going on for anyone to keep track of. Particularly at a place like BNZ. We’ve got work coming out our backsides. BNZ Digital is a small part of the wider Bank. Dunbar’s number is 150. Dunbar’s number describes the amount of stable relationships a person can have - relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.

Teams are important because they increase Dunbar’s number. I can abstract away up to ten people and hide them behind a single team. I can align those teams with products or purposes or causes or constructs; it’s natural for organisations to grow, grouping employees into teams helps us keep it all in our heads at once. It helps us maintain cohesion and coherence.

But getting back to the users, they don’t see all that complexity nor the size of the issue you’re trying to fix. They don’t care about the complexities of OAuth 2.0 or how difficult it is to scale things without blockchain or the latest facebook framework. They care that in the year 2018 they still have to log in to internet banking with a number we gave them.

Imagine the cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, the bank has spent time and effort on an ad in between the ruggers about how important I am to them personally, and on the other, they’ve literally set my internet banking login to some random number instead of my own name or something meaningful to me. Neat.

Good teams show users that the team cares. Good teams put users first. Yes, the Product Manager has given you metrics to move and the head of department wants a big splashy thing. The salespeople want more conversions and the brand people want you to speak with one voice and feel with two feet, or something equally as nebulous. Who knows what that other team wants. They stopped coming to meetings ages ago.

Good teams know. A mature, high-performing team can work across the business and manage that entire lifecycle of work. They can start with discovery and research, ensuring that they’re working on a valuable problem that if solved, will make a happy user. They can plan and execute the work, and importantly, know when to involve people from other teams and disciplines as needed. That other team didn’t turn up to the meeting because we’d spoken to them previously. Brand is happy since they saw the copy weeks ago, and actively drafted the content alongside the content team. Of course the software is being written and tested, eventually deployed and importantly, the impact of that feature on the user is measured.

All this is not to say that if you’re not doing the above, you’re not part of a good team. Everyone’s context is different and that should be celebrated. We all get value to our users in different ways and that makes for diverse companies that compete, learn and grow.