When we speak to first-time managers about the challenges they face, one of them is almost always some version of:
‘I just don’t know whether I’m doing this right.’
Not only is good management hard to measure but it can also be a jarring difference from other roles where your performance can be more easily assessed.
It’s why we really liked a recent article by John Cutler, Head of Education at Amplitude, where he summarised his thoughts on the signals he sees as evidence of healthy and high-performing teams.
He looks for:
Flow: there’s signs of regular progress. Even when projects have long time horizons, there’s still consistent, tangible progress.
Structured approach to learning: there’s an intentional, focussed approach to learning from successes and failures. As he puts it: ‘What did we need to learn? Why? How did we learn? What did we learn? What decisions did that inform?’
Higher decision authority: the team doesn’t have to wait on others to make decisions. There’s fewer sign-offs and approvals to get things done.
A strategy: one which is detailed enough to provide context for people’s work, but broad enough that it doesn’t ‘sap agency’ from the team.
The language of experimentation and impact: do people talk about trying stuff, what worked, what didn’t, and what they learned.
Fewer dependencies: is the team reliant on others in a way which creates unnecessary stress.
Direct contact to understand the customer: the team uses fewer proxies and cut-outs to understand their customers, and has regular, direct contact. The needs of the customer, supported by details and anecdotes, surface regularly in conversation.
Fewer distractions: the team doesn’t often talk about interruptions, and has dedicated stretches of time to focus on their work.
Fewer elephants in the room: whilst every team has challenges, there are fewer chronic, intractable issues that no-one knows how to deal with or doesn’t want to speak about. Problems generally get worked on and solved.
Grappling with uncertainty: the team is comfortable with uncertainty, and understands it in a context where there can be positive outcomes for their team, their company and the customer.
More ad-hoc, willing collaboration: team members want to work with each other, and seek each other out undirected to do so. There’s more laughter. There’s less transactional conversations.
It's not the whole answer, but chances are that if your team is exhibiting most of these characteristics, you’re doing a lot right.
If you’re missing some, perhaps have a think about whether these could be areas to improve upon.