Teamleadsky Framework

Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. Patrick Lencioni
Why do we need another perspective on team development in tech?
Let's start with a quick recap of the environment we are working in as Information Technology professionals.

As the world becomes more and more volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous (VUCA world, Johansen 2007) we are facing increasing pressure from multiple stakeholders, who have way more needs than technical teams are able to address on time.

Reflecting the pace of changes stakeholders want their needs to be fulfilled fast. At the same time it is challenging for non-technical stakeholders to keep up with the possibilities that emerging technologies offer. Stakeholders need support on formulating problem statements and understanding what is possible, what not and which technology-related risks to consider. That requires Information Technology specialists to step out of their mastered roles and defined processes, and act accordingly to the situations to support the stakeholders in reaching the organizations' goals.

Information Technology is a team sport, and in order to get things done at the IT departments we are collaborating with individuals of different skill sets, experiences and characteristics. The amount of jobs in the ICT sector in the EU increased by 38% between the years 2000 and 2016 and is expected to keep increasing (JRC based on Cedefop and Eurofound, 2018). People of different work and educational backgrounds are taking the opportunities that e.g. multiple coding bootcamps provide and changing their professions to IT in a short time (avg. 15.1 weeks, 2019 Coding Bootcamp Market Size Study).

That makes IT teams groups of people used to very diverse ways of collaborating, setting goals and evaluating outcomes (hence "Herding Cats: A Primer for Programmers Who Lead Programmers", Rainwater 2002).

In addition to that each team member is facing a rapidly changing technological landscape that requires constant learning on the job, and organizational changes that management undertakes in order to adapt to the changing markets.

Building high performance tech teams in this complex work environment is a challenging mission. The two different approaches that are followed for that purpose are not mutually exclusive ("instrumental and experiential action", Flood 1999):

  • The first approach is adopting a certain method of doing things (like an existing organizational framework or methodology), and training the team members to master their roles.
  • The second approach is encouraging the team members to take learnings of their experience and shape the ways of working based on the knowledge acquired through practice.

Both approaches have their limitations:

  • Methods lack flexibility as the roles and workflows are often defined without a possibility for overriding. One-size-fits all does not provide the inclusiveness sufficient to enable people of such diverse skill sets, experiences and characteristics as the IT teams are now to utilize their strengths in the face of constant changes.
  • Rules created by the other people open the door to misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the intentions behind. When the team members are not on the same page about how to do things right and for which reasons, that causes tensions, waste of time and creative energy.
  • Finally, learning the rules discourages people from challenging them. As a result often a situation when not following some rule is the right thing to do is perceived by the team members as an organizational failure.
  • Experiential approach in turn is prone to subjectivity. People make mistakes, so do teams.
  • Another complication lies with ambiguity of the outcomes. When using a certain method, succeeding in following some of its rules can be considered a positive change, as we assume that mastering all the rules will help us to reach the desired results. Change that is based on experience makes the evaluation of the outcome a separate task.
  • Finally, there is no industry standard for the experiential approaches. Therefore there are way less publications explaining how other people were solving common problems down that road (although provides a great source for inspiration).

Therefore "a balanced approach is preferable, that draws people's experience into instrumental action adding meaning to possible forms of action, and lays instrumental thinking over people's experience offering them possible direction." (Rethinking the Fifth Discipline, Flood 1999)
What is Teamleadsky Framework for High Performance Teams?
Teamleadsky Framework is a balanced approach that utilises both experiential and instrumental action. It provides teams with the structure for analysis of their teamwork and constructive discussion, the evolving goals that enable continuous improvement and the yardstick for measuring changes.

Teamleadsky Framework consists of Teamleadsky Method and Coaching Model. In addition to the Teamleadsky Coaching Model other models of team effectiveness can be used with the Teamleadsky Method. Teamleadsky develops and provides the software for coaching distributed and mixed teams applying Teamleadsky Method and selected coaching models.

Teamleadsky Framework is compatible with the existing out-of-the box approaches to organizing the work of tech teams. It takes these approaches as a starting point and enables the team members to improve team performance based on their learnings.
COACHING MODEL of Teamleadsky Framework
Teamleadsky Coaching Model is focusing on developing dynamic capabilities of the teams: "ability to integrate, build, and reconfigure internal and external competencies to address rapidly changing environments" (Teece, Pisano and Shuen 1997).

In organizational theory dynamic capabilities provide firms with the capacity to change, in contrast to operational capabilities that enable firms to perform their ongoing tasks.

Dynamic capabilities pertain not only to an organization as whole, but also to organizational units: divisions, sub-units or teams (Helfat, et al. 2007).

Tees and Pisano (1994) define sensing, seizing and adapting as the related to dynamic capabilities means of addressing a changing environment. Following that definition Teamleadsky Framework focuses on the capabilities of the tech teams to deliver, learn and innovate.

  • Deliver: implementing the solutions that add value to the rest of the organization with a sustainable quality and pace. Sensing the priorities, balancing feature creation (seizing) with removing technical debt and refactoring (adapting) the code base for the needs of the organization.
  • Learn: adopting new tech stack, switching to the new ways of working or learning new business domains. Sensing the right things to learn and adapting through team learning, i.e. "Insights gained are put into action. Skills developed can propagate to other individuals and to other teams" (Senge 1990).
  • Innovate: "in the context of rapidly changing requirements and technologies, teams must continuously find novel and creative ways to address the challenges placed upon them.." (Skelton, Pais 2019), therefore sensing different opportunities and seizing (combining and making available) the best suited through ongoing experimentation and rapid delivery must be business as usual for a modern tech team.

Tees (2009) describes the nature of dynamic capabilities and explicates their microfoundations - important elements, that make possible developing dynamic capabilities. Teamleadsky Framework looks into the qualities of an effective team as the microfoundations of team's dynamic capabilities.

Katzenbach and Smith (1993) define a team as "a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and shared approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable".

The level of Commitment in a team is reflected in meeting deadlines and sticking to team agreements. Productivity is assessed using the selected performance goals.

The level of Engagement shows how much the team members are contributing to the decision-making on both "How?" and "What?", and determines whether the team can switch from push to pull management. Teams with a high level of Engagement will generate a lot of ideas about technical solutions, and also on how to address the stakeholders' needs best.

"The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes" Gallup (2019) research that includes surveying for decades 1,882,131 employees in 82,248 business/work units shows that business/work units with high employee engagement have a 78% higher success rate in their own organization and a 113% higher success rate across all companies studied.

Maslow (1965) observed that in exceptional teams "the task was no longer separate from the self… but rather he identified with this task so strongly that you couldn't define his real self without including that task."

Organizations intent on building shared visions continually encourage members to develop their personal visions... people with a strong sense of personal direction can join together to create a powerful synergy toward what "I/we truly want." (Senge 1990)

Teamleadsky Framework calls Drive a personal vision of a team member that is in synergy with the shared vision of the team.

Summarizing, the four qualities that Teamleadsky Framework sees as the microfoundations for developing the dynamic capabilities of a team are engagement, productivity, commitment and drive:
Measuring Dynamic - Teamleadsky
Measuring Dynamic Capabilities of a Team
In order to use the described dynamic capabilities of a tech team and their microfoundations for setting developmental goals and assessing progress, a clear conceptualization of how to measure their performance is needed.

Helfat (2007) introduces the concept of "evolutionary fitness" as a conceptual yardstick for that purpose. The extent of evolutionary fitness depends on how well the dynamic capabilities of an organization (also division/sub-unit or team) match the context in which it operates.

Helfat (2007) identifies demand, competition (including competition and collaboration) and "technical fitness" as important influences on evolutionary fitness. The term "technical fitness" is introduced to denote how effectively a capability performs its intended function.
Measuring Dynamic - Teamleadsky
Based on Helfat, et al. 2007 Figure 1.2 Factors that influence evolutionary fitness.
Dynamic capabilities can attain higher and more lasting value if firms make appropriate investments in improving and maintaining the capabilities. On the other hand, mismanagement, lack of investment and infrequent use (most knowledge that resides within an organization is remembered by doing) can degrade a capability, thereby limiting the sustainability of any prior advantage (Helfat, et al. 2007).
Systemic Nature of Teamleadsky Framework
The multifaceted approach to measuring evolutionary fitness suggests systemic thinking as a natural way of analyzing dynamic capabilities and their microfoundations.

Teamleadsky Framework utilises the principles and practices drawn from various schools of systemic thinking with the goal of supporting team members in becoming more aware of the gap between the currently achieved and desired evolutionary fitness and increasingly able to take the right decisions for reducing that gap.

Team learning is perceived as an overarching practice for increasing evolutionary fitness. Peter M. Senge says in his book "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization" (1990): "Team learning is the process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire.
Within organizations, team learning has three critical dimensions:

  • First, there is the need to think insightfully about complex issues. Here, teams must learn how to tap the potential for many minds to be more intelligent than one mind.
  • Second, there is the need for innovative, coordinated action … where each team member remains conscious of other team members and can be counted on to act in ways that complement each other's actions.
  • Third, there is the role of team members on other teams."
Reviewing evolutionary fitness through the lenses of Systemic Team Coaching (P. Hawkins) brings the individual, interpersonal, inter-team and wider context into the picture:
Lenses - Teamleadsky
Leary-Joyce, Lines 2018 Figure 1.1 The 6 Lenses of Systemic Team Coaching
Combining the lenses with the tools of Senge's systemic thinking (ongoing recurring cyclical patterns, mental models) exposes the dynamic complexity of interconnected factors within an organization.

Dialog is perceived as the main means of integrating different perspectives of the team members into a shared understanding. Following the four principles of Churchman's critical systemic thinking:

  • The systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another.
  • The systems approach goes on to discover that every world-view is terribly restricted.
  • There are no experts in the systems approach.
  • The systems approach is not a bad idea.
ensures humbleness and inclusiveness necessary to "appreciate matters of concern through the eyes of people who raise the concerns." (Flood 1999)

Teamleadsky Framework encourages to think of systems not as of technical constructs with the determined inputs, outputs and structure, but rather as of the interpretations of the reality that should be constantly clarified by integrating different perspectives and context.

The preferred type of team agreement is accommodation, rehearsed in Checkland's soft systems approach: "finding some common ground whilst preserving other differences in opinion. Common ground is a higher level understanding where people find agreement on things to do. Although not ideal … an accommodation may represent an adequate way of proceeding." (Flood 1999)
COACHING PROCESS of Teamleadsky Framework ("Teamleadsky Method")
Teamleadsky Framework applies team coaching as a process to facilitate team learning. Clutterbuck (2007) defines team coaching as "helping the team improve performance, and the process by which performance is achieved, through reflection and dialogue."

Hawkins (2017) empathises systemic nature of team coaching and the importance of collective leadership as a key to organizational transformation, defining its objectives as "help them [team members] improve both their collective performance and how they work together, and also how they develop their collective leadership to more effectively engage with all their key stakeholder groups to jointly transform the wider business."

Teamleadsky Method defines the Ideal State of teamwork as an evolving goal that continuously directs the improvement efforts of a team. The Ideal State of teamwork is repeatedly compared to the current state in order to measure the gap and identify the action points for reducing it.

The ideal (originally called Ideal Final Result or IFR) and current states are the integral parts of TRIZ theory of inventive problem solving, also applied in organizational development. As Phinney explains in the TRIZ Journal: "The Ideal Final Result encourages the use of breakthrough thinking by allowing you to visualize an ideal solution that leverages advantages of the current system while disregarding any deficiencies.
The key to IFR evolution is increasing benefits while decreasing costs and harm associated with the new design. The IFR attempts to reduce or eliminate the deficiencies of the old system while maintaining the advantages. The IFR does not make the new system more complicated nor does it introduce new challenges."

The advantages and deficiencies (Drivers and Restrainers) of teamwork are identified by using the Force Field Analysis technique as described by Gray, Brown and Macafuno (2010). Drivers form an Ideal State. Drivers and Restrainers form a current state. The states are compared to gauge progress:
AI Clinic - Teamleadsky
The perceived impact of each Driver and Restrainer and the presence in the current state are quantified by the team members. The impact and presence values shared by the team members are averaged and the values that differ significantly are discussed, as "studies have shown that averaging individual estimates leads to better results (Hoest, Wohlin 1998) as do group discussions of estimates (Jorgensen and Molokken 2002)" (Cohn 2005).
AI Clinic - Teamleadsky
Teamleadsky Framework embraces software implementation. The affection to physical means such as physical boards and cards is understandable. However working with digital natives in the post-lockdown world, software applications must be used to the maximum of their potential for improving user experience and supporting remote and flexible ways of working.
Flexibility of Teamleadsky Framework
The role of the person or people facilitating the application of Teamleadsky Framework is not described intentionally as it varies from team to team.

The described process and all parts of Teamleadsky Framework including it's coaching model are provided as a starting point and can (although not must) be reviewed and modified for the benefit of the team, reasonably limiting the number of changes happening at the same time (Little 2014).

The intention of Teamleadsky Framework is met as team members are achieving evolutionary fitness for their teams through team learning, by engaging into open and constructive dialog about the positive and negative factors affecting teamwork, applying systemic principles and measurable iterative process.
Aleksandr Zuravliov CSP-PO, 24 February 2021
This article integrates the ideas of various authors in order to describe a practical approach to developing technical teams. Therefore the following sources are quoted and referred to:

"Dynamic Capabilities. Understanding Strategic Change In Organizations", Constance E. Helfat et al. 2007

"Dynamic Capabilities & Strategic Management. Organizing for Innovation and Growth", David J. Teece 2009

"Rethinking the Fifth Discipline. Learning Within the Unknowable", Robert L. Flood 1999

"The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization", Peter Senge 1990

"Corporate Rebels. Make Work More Fun", Joost Minnaar and Pim De Morree 2019

"The Five Dysfunctions of a Team", Patrick Lencioni 2002

"Team Topologies. Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow", Matthew Skelton, Manuel Pais 2019

"It's the Manager", Jim Clifton and Jim Harter 2019

"Leadership Team Coaching. Developing Collective Transformational Leadership", Peter Hawkins 2017

"Systemic Team Coaching", John Leary-Joyce and Hilary Lines 2018

"Agile Estimating and Planning", Mike Cohn 2005

"Game Storming. A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers", Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macafuno 2010

"The TRIZ Journal", Steve Phinney

"The changing nature of work and skills in the digital age", Gonzalez Vazquez et al. 2019

"Lean Change Management. Innovative Practices for Managing Organizational Change.", Jason Little 2014