Project management & leadership | October 7, 2022

How to build a high performing team in IT? Key characteristics of effective teams

In every IT company, there are project teams that other developers want to join. What distinguishes dream teams from others is that they always achieve their goals – and do it well.

How to build a high performing team in IT? Key characteristics of effective teams

Let’s consider whether each team has the potential to become a high performing one, what the benefits of having such an IT team are, and what threats are lurking for them in their everyday work.

Are tech skills enough to build high performing team?

Today, IT projects are characterized by unprecedented dynamics. Companies need more programmers and intensive recruitment drives. And the clock is ticking. “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together”.  Today IT projects are all about going far (as fast as possible). And an IT project is just that kind of long journey, in which not every team (even one composed of the best IT specialists) will work.

How to build a high-performance team in Scrum?

Wonder what is the secret behind building high-performing teams?

Read the article and get to know tips for Agile teams.

How long does it take to build a high-performing team?

“Recruitment in IT is difficult, because you need to gather people working in a given technological stack, at the appropriate level of seniority, and additionally make sure that they fit together. The challenge is to respond to candidates’ financial expectations, which oftentimes change quarterly.”

– HR Talent Manager at Inetum

 In Poland, it takes approximately 2-5 weeks to recruit a single specialist. Building a team from scratch is an even bigger challenge.

The key characteristics of high performing teams

  1. Goal –the high-performance teams are aware of their common goal and work towards achieving it.
  2. Results – the activities of the best teams are measurable – and borne out by the numbers.
  3. Competences – the most effective teams consist of people with high competences, but they are also cross-functional; that is, there are specialists within the group who can perform a given task.
  4. Management style – manager-led styles are increasingly being replaced in programming teams by self-organization according to an Agile mindset. Such teams have leaders who do not focus on competition, but on achieving the group’s goal.
  5. Cooperation – includes working in a good atmosphere, collaboration based on trust, respect, communication and skillful conflict resolution.
5 characteristics of high-performing team
5 characteristics of high-performing team

The optimal time to build a high-performance team

“The optimal time for building a team is 6-8 weeks – so that it is possible to properly select team members and carry out technical verifications in terms of the specificity of the project.”

– HR Talent Manager at Inetum

What are we? Where are we going?  And other important questions asked by high-performance IT teams

Are you wondering if your IT team has the potential to become a dream team? Or is it one already? The following questions can help you find the answers or identify room for improvement.

  • Who are we?

In other words, what are our roles (not only those related to the position of programmer or software tester)? It is worth considering how personal qualities translate into fulfilling specific functions in a group.

Also read: Personal qualities of team members and work in Scrum

  • Where do we go?

What is our goal? The team’s goal should be as SMART and clear as possible and understandable to everyone. Does your goal meet these criteria? Does everyone in the team know the goal and strive to achieve it?

  • How do we do this?

Meaning, what are the rules and values of the team? Do we have a kind of internal code of ethics? A set of principles (even an unwritten one) can suit the organizational culture and its values, but it can also emerge at the level of a given team (e.g., everyone can have their say, we listen to each other, we give constructive feedback).

  • Are we talking to each other?

How do we communicate? What communication channels are used for what purposes? Well-functioning teams know when a meeting is needed and when an email or chat message is enough.

  • What makes us different?

Disagreements in the group cannot be avoided and it is natural and healthy if they occur. Conflict resolution can be constructive and help build strong bonds between team members. Read also: Conflict in a team

  • Do we have a ‘can do’ attitude?

A positive attitude and conviction that “we will succeed, we are able to achieve the goal” motivates us to give more of ourselves. A study conducted by Google called Project Aristotle showed that the sense of security associated with positive thinking is the most important factor directing the team’s dynamics towards being effective. 

  • How good are we?  

Success is measurable – high performing IT teams have evidence of this in the form of statistics, charts or KPIs. IT project management tools can be helpful too.

  • Can we do even better?

Effective teams are characterized by continuous development, ambition and the desire to be even better. The most effective IT teams do not rest on their laurels. They are distinguished by continuous development, the ambition of members and the desire to be even better. They participate in industry events, IT conferences, write expert articles and conduct webinars.

Hire a dedicated development team. Ready to get things done!

Benefits of having a high-performance IT team

  • Solid foundations for the entire organization dream teams motivate others to develop in the spirit of friendly competition. Who do you think would compete more? Two individual fans of a football team or entire groups meeting on the street? According to the researchers, the competition between the groups is stronger than between their individual members.
  • Counteracting rotation – there is a saying that we ‘we join because of the company and leave because of the boss. According to the available research, a well-coordinated team and a competent team leader tend to keep an employee in the workplace (unless a competitor proposes a 20% higher rate).
  • Attracting talent to the company referral programs in IT companies are a great opportunity to work with people who programmers know and like, and to benefit financially from engaging in recruitment support.
  • Improved financial results according to the available data, highly effective teams can almost double the odds of achieving financial results above the market average.

Threats to high performance

Every team, including a dream team, faces the challenges of group processes. The process of forming teams is continuous – even stabilized teams will revert to the previous stages each time a new person joins, the management changes etc. Risks to high efficiency include, among others:

  • Group conformism – we deal with it, for example, when people with less forceful personalities do not express their point of view, but only repeat the opinions of those in higher positions. Such people should have a chance to present their point of view first, e.g., at the Sprint Retrospective in Scrum.
  • Risk polarization – a group gives us strength but also creates a greater opportunity to take risks. The group influences the decisions of individuals because it gives us a sense of security and even the illusion of omnipotence. A good example could be the decisions of juries who, after consulting others, tend to issue a much higher or lower sentence than they would have done based on their own judgement.
  • Social loafing – the strength of IT teams, especially agile ones, is utilizing the competences and potential of each person. However, it may turn out that in a team, some people leave ambitious tasks to others who they see as being more competent, or assume in advance that someone will certainly take care of a given issue. Lack of accountability is the enemy of cooperation.
  • Too big/small team – according to the researchers, teams of more than 10 people tend to achieve worse results. The quality of communication decreases, there is less room for everyone to express their opinion and it is more difficult to maintain transparency. This does not mean, however, that the fewer team members, the better. A team of less than 6 people, due to a lack of diversity and different perspectives, may also encounter performance issues.
  • Focusing on insignificant aspects – many IT teams, especially when working remotely, complain about there being too many meetings. Meetings are necessary, given that they are adapted to the seriousness of the problem and focused on the subject. Ineffective meetings are not only a pain in the neck in modern times. As early as the 1960s, it was discovered that people avoid difficult discussions and are more willing to share opinions on simple matters, as Parkinson’s law of triviality says. Parkinson gave the example of a meeting at a nuclear power plant, during which most of the allocated time was devoted to the topic of… a bicycle shed. 

How can we minimize the risk of low performance in an IT team?

Selection of suitable team members

In particular, the following will help to build a team as well as plan a self-development roadmap:

  • Belbin test distinguishes 9 team roles proposed by Dr. Meredith Belbin. They describe a person’s approach to a task, their reasoning and how they communicate.
  • DISC Assessment – the DISC model distinguishes four attitudes (Dominant, Inspiring, Supportive, Cautious). People with a specific personality are characterized by similar behavior, style of work or communication.
  • Myers-Briggs Test (MBTI) – a model that determines preferences in terms of using energy, gathering knowledge and decision-making, and attitude towards the outside world (as opposed to one’s inner world). The researchers further developed the concept devised by Gustav Jung, proposing 16 types of personality.

Dedicated project tools

Numerous IT project management programs are available on the market, from simple ones such as Trello or Asana, to more extensive ones like Wrike or Teamwork. They facilitate communication and help to manage the flow and track progress of sometimes very complex programming tasks with many dependencies.

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Choosing the right working methodology

Today, everyone wants to be Agile. Agile frameworks such as Scrum or Kanban help to maintain productivity in teams. When choosing, however, it is worth basing the decision on the specificity of the project.

Learn more: Is Waterfall dead?

Taking advantage of ready-to-go software development teams

Ready-to-work software development teams have an optimal number of members, and the developed management methods and coordination counteract conformity in the group. Many companies use this solution to accelerate their project work.

One of the best ways to build a high-performing team is an Agile mindset

Many teams have become agile ones, as an agile mindset fosters productivity.

Here is why:

  • Agile teams value feedback which facilitates constant growth and keeps teams striving for excellent results
  • There is an emphasis on a sense of trust among Agile team members. People who trust each other outperform other teams
  • In every iteration (e.g., in Scrum framework) developers follow clearly defined steps to deliver working functionalities
  • Agile teams self-organize. There is no leader / manager which is why all team members take care to build value. This way, employees learn from their mistakes, which makes them stronger and increases their chances of achieving success in the future

So what makes a high performing team? Summary 

A well-known saying is that “the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.” 

Creating teams from outstanding individuals can be a tempting idea – after all, IT is about competence and the technological stack. However, it is the soft skills and selection of people that enable them to use their full potential – for the sake of the team and the software product being developed. This way, you also build a working environment that fosters delivering the best results.