This is the final post in a three-part series presenting leadership principles for product and tech executives.  This week’s entry covers principles of team dynamics and behaviors within product and engineering teams. 

The first in the series covers principles related to the leader him/herself
The second in the series covers principles related to team construction and workflow

VIII.  Empower Team Decision Making (Army Principle Make Sound and Timely Decisions)

What it is
The original Army Leadership Principles wording, “Make Sound and Timely Decisions” focuses only on the leader herself.    While we must strive to make sound and timely decisions ourselves, our real focus needs to be on the scalability of the organization.  To be successful in scaling, and to ensure fastest possible time to market, we must push decision making down closest to where the action is happening.  Teams themselves need to quickly pivot and react to a competitive marketplace without waiting for decisions from above.  Waiting stalls progress.  Waiting for a leader who has built a command-and-control organization means the pipeline of work along several teams will face multiple stalls, leading to slow time to market and ceding market share to organizations that can move quickly.

What you can do to improve
Essential activities to be successful here for any leader are:

  1. Building a “sense and respond”, learning organization.
  2. Ensuring everyone has access to appropriate real time and batch analytics and data.
  3. Building teams that have all the skills and experiences necessary to quickly take action (see Principle V).
  4. Setting appropriate goals and holding the team accountable to those goals.
  5. Establishing a clear vision that helps guide the team during times of uncertainty and quick decision making.
  6. Establishing a culture of accountability and action.
  7. “Letting Go” and learning to manage by objectives and outcomes.

The last point above is quite often the hardest for any leader.  But it is absolutely necessary and points 1 through 6 help establish the framework to “Let Go”.

IX.  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate (From the Army Leadership Principle Keep Your People Informed)

What it is
No matter how hard we try, and no matter how often we communicate, I know for certain that all of us fail in this regard.  Successful companies are comprised of busy people getting stuff done (#GSD).  Messages from oral communication to texts are often seen and quickly forgotten, being replaced with the next critical task that must be done “yesterday”.
Communicating what, why and how from preeminent topics the likes of vision and mission to subordinate activities including execution and compensation need to be a constant activity. And doubly so during heavy lifting activities like change management.  As John Kotter famously points out, “change” is the daily fiduciary responsibility of every executive; improvement is necessary for progress and growth and improvement requires change.

What you can do to improve
While I feel that I fail every day in this regard, I also spend a great deal of time and energy trying to improve.  I find it useful to setup a recurring communication calendar leveraging multiple modes of communication.

Async communication with at least one employee a day regarding their personal performance and contributions [Modality:  Slack]

Weekly : 
• Pulse information regarding the progress of the organization against company goals and useful bits of information on how to improve.  [Modality: Slack]
• 1:1s with key members of the team discussing various corporate and personal topics. [Modality – voice or in person]
• Automated feedback surveys: Consider sending out surveys to the team to identify significant blocking events – what needs to be resolved to help increase velocity?

Monthly :
• Update of corporate “leading” metrics OKRs/team goals for everyone to see.  OKRs directly derived from the corporate strategy. [Modality:  Shared corporate document]
• Update of employee goals for everyone in the company to see (we believe in transparency) [Modality: Shared corporate document]
• Update on progress against “lag” metrics including company financials and performance [Modality: Email]

• Update of corporate “leading” metrics OKRs/team goals for everyone to see.  OKRs directly derived from the corporate strategy. [Modality:  Shared corporate document]
• Update of employee goals for everyone in the company to see (we believe in transparency) [Modality: Shared corporate document]
• Update on progress against “lag” metrics including company financials and performance [Modality: Email]

Company performance review and strategy session [Modality:  In Person]

X.  Be Data Driven

What it is
Everyone hates the HIPPO – the highest paid person’s opinion.  Similarly, most of us would love to be in egalitarian environments where we are afforded the opportunity to contribute to decision making at a level commensurate with our skills and experience.  Egalitarianism is partially predicated on the selection of the best option based on available data.  However, the internal need many of us have “be right” often stands in the way of “doing the right thing”. 
Add equal parts confirmation bias and congruence bias to the egoistic “need to be right” and we are quite frankly wired to fail to be truly data driven. 

What you can do to improve
Take a breath and always take time to ask the question of what data exists to support any given decision.  Ensure you spend time building solutions that support ad-hoc and recurring analysis.  Beware of the desire to immediately jump to hypotheses development and take the time to take the meandering inductive walk-through data to help generate a complete and appropriate hypothesis.  As a leader, make sure the questions you ask aren’t leading the team in a direction, but rather trying to identify “truth”.  Learn more about induction and deduction and the need for inductive activities here

XI. Evolve Constantly

What it is
I cannot think of an industry that is not facing a need to increase the pace of evolution and change.  Exogenous forces including technology advancements and changes in cultural norms decrease the barriers to entry for competition, inhibit the success of past approaches and change the way we think about employee development and satisfaction.  As a result, our jobs are largely to be rapid iteration change agents.  We must never be satisfied with the status quo and must fight the inertia that sets into all organizations.

What you can do to improve

  1. Dedicate time to analyze the meta forces that may become disruptive forces to your firm.  What emerging technology may change the landscape and decrease the barriers to competition?  What changes in approaches may offer better TTM for your existing products?  Which areas require additional focus?
  2. Look to augment your team with experience from both inside and beyond your specific industry.  Experience within an industry is incredibly valuable and necessary for today’s operations.  But experience from outside your industry is not shackled by the experiences of past successes and may help identify new and more valuable approaches.  Outsiders are much more likely to question why long-standing approaches are the most appropriate for your business.
  3. Value the diversity of opinion and perspective that only heterogeneity in gender, ethnicity and belief structures can bring.  Do not fall into the trap of seeking diversity for the sake of publicity or compliance – value diversity because diverse opinions and perspectives help broaden debates and therefore strategic optionality.  Diversity creates stronger, faster companies and is just better. 

Getting an outside view helps provide additional perspective. We’ve conducted hundreds of third-party assessments, provided interim roles at dozens of top organizations, and coached many executives. Contact us, we can help! []