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The efficiency, productivity, and ultimately the success of a company, department, or team can be divided into 4 elements. Understanding these elements, the roles they play, and how to optimize each element can lead to stellar performance. The four elements are leadership, people, process, and tools.

Every team is delivering a product or service. The quality and speed at which they deliver that product or service can vary depending on how well-developed the four elements are. The four elements can be broken into these questions:

  • People – Who is doing the work? More specifically, what are the skillsets and characteristics of an employee?
  • Process – How are they doing the work? This is about the processes that are predefined for the employee or team.
  • Tools – What tools are available to them to do their work?
  • Leadership – How does the work contribute to the success of the company?

However, not all elements have the same impact. A great employee is like a magic wand, overcoming a lack of leadership, lack of processes, and bad toolsets. In contrast, an employee who doesn’t have a strong skill set may not be able to use a great tool efficiently.

Operational Success Model with Leadership as it's base, supported by people, operations next, then tools

In this post, we’ll further define the 4 elements that go into a team’s success and explore the importance of each of these elements. There’s also an assessment you can use to assess the maturity level of your organization, department, or team.

I’ll use company, organization, department, or team interchangeably throughout this post since the concept can apply to any level.

Leadership

At the core of a great team is its leadership. When leadership shines, the company works in unison cranking out high-quality products and services. You have highly engaged employees that coordinate their efforts to accomplish the goals. Ultimately, the goal of leadership is to create a strong vision and drive the team towards that vision.

Poor leaders hire the wrong people, choose the wrong objectives, don’t communicate goals well, do not set clear expectations, and allow teams to head in directions that don’t contribute to the organization’s success.

Hiring and retaining the right team members is a core function of leadership. Once you have the right team members, they can accelerate the team’s progress toward its goals. Get the wrong team member, and it can bring the team’s progress to a grinding halt and negatively impact the culture of the team.

Look at it this way, if a team were a vehicle, then the leadership is the steering wheel. You could be driving 100 miles per hour, but if it’s in the wrong direction, you won’t be making progress toward your goals.

FYI, the video on my YouTube channel gives a great analogy around Leadership, People, Operations, and Tools. Watch on YouTube

People

If leaders are the steering wheel of the vehicle, the team members are the engine, driveline, and wheels that will propel the vehicle forward. Having the right team members will help define how long it will take to get to the destination, or possibly if you can get there at all.

Can a great employee overcome bad leadership?

Absolutely! but… A great employee can still be productive and efficient. However, if the leadership is not strong, then you’ll probably encounter one or more of the following:

  • The organization got lucky in hiring the employee and other employees are not as productive.
  • The employee runs into blockers because other employees are not working towards the same goals. This leads to inefficiencies in an employee’s work.
  • The employee could get frustrated with time which will lead to burnout and that employee leaving the company.
  • A single employee outperforming other employees can lead to a heightened sense of ego. This has a tendency to alienate other employees and lead to inefficiency.

Can a team overcome bad leadership?

Absolutely! But… most likely, leadership still exists, it’s just taken on another form. Either the team has an unofficial leader (a leader without an official leadership title), or the group is self-organized creating a distributed leadership role. In this situation, you may find the following:

  • The unofficial leader could leave and the team would lose its leadership
  • If the team has a distributed leadership role, it’s based on the team’s dynamic as a whole. A change in the team’s membership (an employee leaves) could have drastic consequences on the team’s dynamics and its ability to self-lead.
  • The team could be highly productive, but if the rest of the organization isn’t leading to the same goals, the company as a whole is inefficient.

Can a team overcome bad operations and toolsets?

Absolutely! There is some loss in productivity, but when I hire a stellar employee, it’s like someone took their foot off the brakes and stepped on the gas. Often these employees are the solutions to putting good operations and toolsets in place.

Operations

First, let’s define operations. These are the processes, policies, procedures, and guidelines that employees use to do their work. This could be the training that new employees get, the documentation employees follow, the process of how work is assigned, and how projects are managed. This also includes the unspoken rules that the team dynamics developed.

A team’s operations can both affect individual team members’ productivity and how the team functions together.

Here are some of the questions this attempts to answer:

  • How are you going to communicate?
  • How are you going to assign work?
  • How will you overcome obstacles?

When you have your operations clearly defined, you create a basis for improvement. Without having operations clearly defined, you rely on the memory of the individuals carrying out any given function. By clearly defining steps, processes, policies, and guidelines, you now have a playbook that can be tested and improved upon. When something fails, I ask my team to find out what process failed and how we can fix it. It’s an easy way to shift the blame from a team member to something without feelings of defensiveness. It’s a great way to discover solutions in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

Can operations overcome bad leadership?

No! Leadership is the key to implementing good operations, but operations do not define leadership. Essentially, leadership would utilize operations the way “People” (the employees) would use “Tools”. That is operations is the toolset for leaders, it’s what they use to run the company, department, or team.

Can operations overcome bad employees?

No! If you have employees who forget or refuse to follow a process, the process becomes useless. Operations can help make an employee more efficient or productive, but only if they choose to use it.

Can operations overcome bad tools?

Yes! There are plenty of times we would like to roll out a new software or service that better fits our needs, but it’s not in the budget, we don’t have the time, or other barrier to a tool that we would ideally have. We compensate by creating a process that uses a less-than-ideal tool. As an example, there are plenty of times I’ve used Microsoft Excel to track work, document network settings, or track budget when there are other tools that would have been a better solution. Excel was a great stand-in until I was in a better position to roll out a different tool.

One thing to note is that the importance of operations will vary depending on the team and the work they are performing. The company’s size, industry, product/service, and other factors will largely determine the depth of operations needed. Highly skilled, professional, and creative teams need less structure. A team working a manufacturing line will be very process (operations) heavy and the detail of each task gets mapped down to the smallest detail. Professional, skilled, and/or creative teams need less direction. However, even with these teams, there are benefits to defining at least some operational components.

As you better define and document operations, you increase efficiency, increase predictability, improve quality, reduce waste, reduce downtime, and reduce errors.

I look at every team and its processes as if it were a machine. Often, leadership wants to increase productivity when the machine is not operating well. Increasing the speed of a machine that is not well-oiled, prone to mechanical issues, and is not maintained well, only increases its downtime and need for repairs. Spend the time to do the proper maintenance and make improvements and you will increase its performance without downtime. That is, spend time getting your “People” and “Operations” correct, and you can increase productivity without risking burnout, failures, and poor-quality work.

Tools

Having the right toolset has profound benefits. Often, we can think of “Tools” as being the software and services we purchase to help us accomplish our goals. These can facilitate a team’s growth and productivity. Give a team the wrong set of tools, and their performance can be hindered. You wouldn’t give someone who changes tires a hammer, nor would you give a construction framer a tire iron.

Can a great tool overcome poor Leadership, People, or Operations? No! As an IT person, I’ve often been asked to implement technical changes and tools to overcome employee deficiencies. I have not seen it be successful.

Is the best tool the best tool? What? That’s not a typo. Each tool implemented also has a potential negative impact. Often, I’m asked to implement a software solution that will increase productivity for a team but isn’t necessarily the best tool for the company. At one company I worked for, different teams used different messaging platforms. One team used HipChat, another used Slack, and yet another used the company’s unified communications. They each had their reasons why their tool was the best and most productive for their respective team. However, it caused confusion and miscommunication amongst the teams and the company as a whole didn’t benefit from having multiple messaging platforms.

Additionally, many tools take time and energy to implement and manage. Trying to find a different toolset for every position in the company can be exhausting to support. A big key to finding success in this area is to find the right balance between how many tools you are supporting while still meeting the needs of all the team members.

I also find many users think a tool is going to revolutionize productivity. Most of the time, those expectations are never met. I’ve rushed implementations of software solutions for stakeholders because of the urgency in which they needed a solution only to find out the solution didn’t meet their needs. Tools are there to facilitate or enhance leadership, team members, and operations, but they cannot take the place of the other three elements.

How to Improve Operational Success

Each one of these areas needs time and intention. Success starts with Leadership. TechKnowSurge offers a workshop to help your leadership skills grow. Our workshop is designed to:

  • Increase teams productivity
  • Increase employee retention
  • Deliver better quality product
  • Reducing stress and burnout for you and your team

📝Operational Success Assessment📝

Instructions

How does your team stack up? Take the assessment below and find out. Rate each of the statements using the following scale:

1 = Completely disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Neutral
4 = Agree
5 = Completely agree

Answer all the questions from the individual team members' perspective, not from a management/leadership perspective. Use the dropdown to rate each area (Leadership, People, Operations, Tools), then hit submit to see how others responded.

Leadership

  1. I have a high degree of trust that leadership is making the right decisions
  2. leadership has a strong vision and communicates it well
  3. I understand my role in making the vision a reality
  4. Leadership sets high but achievable standards and communicates them well
  5. Leadership gives me the guidance and direction I need to be successful in my role

People

  1. We have the right team members to be successful
  2. Every team member is in the right position to perform the functions of their role
  3. Every team member is skilled and knowledgeable to be successful in their roles
  4. Team members follow the policy, procedures, and guidelines set by leadership
  5. Team members are open to adapting to changes

Operations

  1. The policies, procedures, and guidelines are well-documented and clearly communicated
  2. The policies, procedures, and guidelines seem appropriate for the size of the team/department/company
  3. The policies, procedures, and guidelines help contribute to our success
  4. The policies, procedures, and guidelines are routinely evaluated and changed
  5. Team members are notified and/or trained when there are changes to the policies and procedures

Tools

  1. I have access to the right tools needed to do my job
  2. Each tool I’m required to use has a valuable function
  3. I have the training and knowledge to properly use the tools that are available to me
  4. Tools are routinely evaluated and changed to meet the teams/departments/companies changing needs
  5. There are processes in place to request new tool sets

Additional Resource

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