Assessing team performance

March 31st, 2010  |  Published in Teams

A lot of work these days is done via project teams – more often than not team members are drawn from different departments, different business units and different organisations and often there is no formal leader. How does the team get a sense of how it is performing in such circumstances? Here is a method for a team to assess its own performance and then use this assessment as a platform to work towards improvements in effectiveness. The tool rests on the assumption that an accurate self assessment of performance – whether at individual or team level – provides a sturdier foundation for sustained learning than an externally imposed evaluation.

There are four parts to the self assessment process:

Determining a set of assessment dimensions that are relevant to the context and purpose of the team.

Agreeing the criteria for effectiveness on each dimension. In the example shown below a traffic light system was used: the team divided into three subgroups to come up with descriptions that illustrated red, amber and green conditions for each dimension. Rather than collapse these into a single set of criteria all were retained to provide a multi-faceted illustration of differing levels of effectiveness.

The self assessment. Depending on the size of the group – and its maturity – this can be done in subgroups (as in the example), or individually. Generally speaking subgroups are the less risky option so this might be the preferred route in the early days of a team’s existence. For more mature teams, or if you want to push the boat out, individual assessment provides more data and more scope for interesting conversations at the next stage.

Having the conversations. The team explores the implications of the range of scores on each dimension and agrees what to do next.

Read on for a detailed look at each step…

Step 1: Determining a set of assessment dimensions

The most beneficial way do this in the long run is to work as a team to originate set of assessment dimensions that are meaningful and relevant to you as a team. It may be tempting to short circuit this stage and use outputs from other teams but the benefit you gain by way of shared meaning and ownership far outweighs the cost in time and effort I reckon. Here is a basic recipe, adjustable in endless ways to suit the situation and the time, space and resources available:

Split up into number of groups so that you have three or four people working together in each sub group and ask each team to come up with six or seven indicators of team performance that are relevant to the overall goals of the team. You may want to provide a couple of examples to get the thought processes going. Allow 10-15 mins for this part of the task. Ideally use a flipchart or post-its and brown paper to record the outputs.

Each group pitches its proposals in turn to the rest of the team. Allow 5 mins or so for each team to present.

Working as a whole team, reach agreement on the five dimensions that paint an appropriately comprehensive picture of team functioning. There are many variations for how you go about this:

  • various voting and ranking systems
  • if you’ve used post-its you can organise ideas into themes
  • straightforward exploration and conversation into the meaning behind each proposal
  • if none of the above work there is always the default of what would look good to the boss

Step 2: Agreeing the criteria for effectiveness

Once you have agreed a set of dimensions to assess yourselves against the task becomes one of scaling: for each dimension of team performance you need to attach meaning to positions along a continuum that ranges from your definition of ineffective (crap team in the example) to highly effective (high performing team in the example). In terms of structure there are two basic options here and, either way, there is a good argument for doing this part of the process in subgroups – allowing you get the benefit of multiple versions of each scale.

  • A traffic light system as shown in the example – requires descriptions for three positions along the scale that correspond to red, amber and green – and, of course, your meanings for red, amber and green
  • A 1-10 scale with descriptions for the ‘1’ and the ’10’ extremes

Step 3: The self assessment

This is where team members do a bit of ranking. The easiest way to structure this is to draw up the completed assessment grid on brown paper or flip chart and simply ask people to mark the place on each scale that they think corresponds with the current level of team performance. You can do this either individually or in small teams, the team option being the less risky and therefore more appropriate for a newly formed team.

When everybody has completed their assessments it might be tempting to assume the job is done; while you might want to report your assessments to others external to the team the main benefit from this sort of process is the conversation it allows you to have…

Step 4: Having the conversations

There are at least four types of conversation that can emerge from this process – they can be arranged along a risk and opportunity gradient as each one challenges more of the assumptions made by the team.

At the least risky end of the gradient is the react conversation. Here the focus is on the action taken by the team and the outcomes resulting from the action. The benefit of this type of conversation is that it enables the team to reflect on their behaviours and reinforce what works and modify what doesn’t.

A redesign conversation is slightly riskier: the focus shifts to the strategy that informed the action: were our predictions made about the situation accurate? To what extent did we take relevant factors into account? What parts of the plan worked? What parts didn’t? Did we select the best option? Did we generate any options?

Moving further along our risk continuum we have a reorient conversation: this entails looking again at our individual and shared goals and our sense of how to achieve them. Opens the possibility of setting different and potentially more challenging goals.

A rethink conversation ups the ante still further: we focus attention on our perceptions and interpretations of the task and team environment. Fundamental questions are asked and assumptions tested: What do we consider important? What factors get our attention? What is deemed relevant or irrelevant? Provides the potential for reassessing personal and shared values – as well as influencing goals, options and behaviours.

You may be wondering what determines the type of conversation a team is willing to entertain, basically it’s the willingness – or bravery – of team members in pushing the boat out in an appropriately forthright manner. For more insight into the dynamics of risk in teams check out the Johari Window.


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