Why team context matters

September 22, 2021
Buildings at various stages of construction

How important is the context of our team to finding ways to improve and perform better?

Is it really possible to develop standard practices that help all teams? Or is every team unique where only specific, targeted measures related to its context can help it improve?

(Click here to go straight to our free team context survey)

The answer, as is often the case, lies in the middle. It’s not either team routines or context rich interventions, it's both.

Let’s compare it to managing our health. If we eat a balanced, plant heavy diet, exercise regularly, sleep well and drink lots of water - we will reduce our chances of health problems. But are these routines the cure for all health problems? No.

The same is true of teams. There are evidenced based habits and routines that tend to improve the performance of all teams. Investing the time to get really aligned on your shared goals. Taking the time to reflect as a team on what’s working and what is not working, through practices like retrospectives.

These practices, routines and habits are widely accepted by experts and widely evidenced by teams to improve performance. Yet most teams have not developed these basic routines and habits. Some of us still eat too many chocolate cookies and could go to the gym a bit more too!

Our team development platform encourages these evidence-based team practices and routines. Whether habits form is driven by the level of effort required and the motivation to create the habit. We clarify suggested routines and habits for teams and significantly reduce the effort to initiate them. This increases the chances of the routine or habit forming.

But beyond this context is important. Understanding context helps both fine tuning the habits and routines and highlight other interventions that need to happen for that team. Three things that can help:

  1. Don't just sit in the sauna 🧖‍♀️
    Once we develop a routine or habit, it matters how we participate. A routine or habit can be approached with more or less enthusiasm. Going to the gym helps, what you do at the gym matters too. In the same way, having a regular retrospective provides the space to share learnings. The way that you use that time and what you share is important. We need to understand the context of the team’s motivation. How do individuals show up?
  2. Start with what makes sense ⚙️
    The sequence of which routine to develop first will also vary depending on team context. For example, what stage is the team at in the life cycle? If your team is new or just starting, a routine of agreeing on shared goals might be a priority. Or if you are a team where project plans have gone wrong, you might be ready to introduce a habit of regular reflection or retrospectives so you can iterate toward success.
  3. Don't be afraid to press reset ‼️
    Of course, there may be challenges that you face that need interventions beyond the scope of any routine or practice. Let’s say a critical medical diagnosis requires surgery. A doctor may still suggest some healthy routines but they are not enough on their own. In the same way if a fundamental rethink of the team strategy is required. You need deep expertise to engage in the problem.

So developing healthy routines and habits are important. But they are not a panacea. Understanding team context and specific interventions matters too.

So how can we understand our team context better? We might think of two approaches. First we can establish a quite basic understanding of context. The type of team, the size of the team, where the team is located. Although basic, these still provide clues for individual teams.  And at scale we can see patterns emerging.

The short survey below is an example of some basic questions regarding team context. It takes a few minutes to complete and provides some insight back to you about the context of the team you are in.

Click here to take the survey

The second type of contextual understanding is a human skill. Say I know that one of my teammates is anxious about a sick relative. It should clearly have an impact on how we manage the team. No survey or data scraping would have enabled me to connect these two facts. Afterall, the factors that might affect a team are infinite. This ability to understand the broader context and identify non-obvious factors is a uniquely human skill. Even for sophisticated artificial intelligence the ability to context switch and connect apparently unrelated data points is limited.

Our aim is to assist but not replace human judgement to develop more productive and engaged teams. Gathering data that increases our understanding of the team and its context can help. But these are baby steps to support human decisions. One killer question is whether there’s real motivation to make a change at all.

Understanding team context is just one of the ways you - and the Saberr Platform - are able to make smarter decisions.

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