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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
10/30/2014
09:06 AM
Anant Gupta
Anant Gupta
Commentary
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3 Essentials For Supporting High Performing Employees

There's no perfect model for building the perfect team, but all empowered employees need the following characteristics.

This year has seen its share of surprises globally with change being arguably the only constant in the new global workplace. The recent Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report from Deloitte notes that today's business environment is defined by disruptions in labor markets, evolving workforce demographics, shifts in technology, and the changing nature of work itself.

Within this vigorous environment, what does it take to build high-performance teams?

[Digital initiatives are where the action is. Read How IT Can Spur Digital Innovation]

Among the disruptive companies getting accolades for re-writing the rules of team-building is Netflix. A presentation given by Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, which described the company's talent philosophy, was termed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as "the most important document ever to come out of the Valley." It also attracted a whopping nine million views on Slideshare. In a Harvard Business Review(HBR) article early this year, McCord elaborated on the two overarching principles of the company's talent philosophy: "Hire only 'A' players and be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been."

A rough and tumble work environment? Yes, but with immense freedom and responsibility. For instance, Netflix has no vacation policy nor does it track number of vacation days taken by employees. It emphasizes context, not control, as an important aspect of its work culture.

While Netflix's philosophy of hiring A players sits at one end of the spectrum, research conducted by MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory reached a different conclusion. It found that individual intelligence or accomplishments are not the best predictors of productivity.

In an HBR article titled "The New Science of Building Great Teams", Lab Director and Professor Alex "Sandy" Pentland concluded, "Individual reasoning and talent contribute far less to team success than one might expect." Instead, according to this extensive study, team energy and engagement are what set high performing teams apart. All teams, at their very foundation, are relationship systems. So the best way to build a great team, according to this theory, is not to select individuals for their intelligence or accomplishments, but to learn how they communicate and shape the team so that it follows successful communication patterns.

Clearly, one size does not fit all. Each organization must find its own ideal mix of individual talents and team dynamics. While there may be endless debate on the ingredients that go into building a high-performing team, there are three essential elements that empower any team to navigate the highways of success.

Instilling tech intelligence
Undoubtedly, technology has dramatically changed the way we work and the skills we need. But we ain't seen nothing yet. To quote the latest McKinsey quarterly report, "In the years ahead, acceleration in the scope, scale, and economic impact of technology will usher in a new age of artificial intelligence, consumer gadgetry, instant communication, and boundless information, while shaking up business in unimaginable ways."

To survive in this scenario, everyone -- from board strategists to senior management to team managers to individual contributors -- will need to be a "technologist" to understand how specific technologies affect every part of the business. High-performing teams in any industry will need to be fluent in the fundamentals of data and technology. It's therefore essential for companies to unravel the technological maze for their people through classes, courses, and other learning tools.

Keeping your tech relevant
Consider your favorite apps. You constantly allow their upgrades on your smartphone so they stay relevant. Are you equally concerned about the relevance of your best people?

This idea was addressed recently by a young HCL employee on our internal social platform. He asked some very thought-provoking questions such as, "If you were an app, with what frequency would you upgrade/upskill yourself to stay relevant? Therein lies the answer to your growth." What a brilliant observation! In today's swiftly changing world, if we're not frequently investing in reinventing the skills, domain expertise, and knowledge of our people, they are at grave risk of being left behind in the talent development race. At HCL, we have a special app called "Career Connect" to help our employees constantly upgrade skills and even reinvent themselves.

Using the app, an individual can discover a new role in the company, trigger a career counseling discussion with HR, define developmental inputs required to achieve the role, create a Career Development Plan with customized training programs, and finally apply internally for a desired open position. Keeping training in sync with aspiration is perhaps the best method to encourage high performance.

Investing in 'ideapreneurs'
In a world propelled by new ideas, high performing teams must include "ideapreneurs." We coined this term to describe innovative thinkers who are self-driven like entrepreneurs and carry their ideas to fruition. Together they build a culture of innovation that's grass roots, focused on the customer, and driven by business goals.

Deloitte's research on Millennials shows that this generation has a relatively high desire to be entrepreneurial, to move into leadership roles, and to have the opportunity to innovate. Ideapreneurship allows them to do just that.

Today's work culture carries a premium on personal development. High performers believe in workplaces that invest in their professional development and give them constant opportunities to grow.

As such, to attract and inspire passion in the right kind of talent, companies need to transform themselves into autobahns that create perfect driving conditions for high performing teams to race at top speed – with pit stops along the way for regular refuelling.

Apply now for the 2015 InformationWeek Elite 100, which recognizes the most innovative users of technology to advance a company's business goals. Winners will be recognized at the InformationWeek Conference, April 27-28, 2015, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Application period ends Jan. 9, 2015.

Anant Gupta is President and Chief Executive Officer of HCL Technologies Ltd. He began his career with HCL in 1993 and has held a series of leadership positions in the company. In his current role, he led the company's foray into global markets through its pioneering Remote ... View Full Bio
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yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 1:53:06 PM
Re: Jumping ship
"Netflix's management has gone insane to impose threats like that. It may ensure that only the best of the best employees get to work on the project, but if say, there are 10 people working on a $1 million dollar project and 4 of them are B level, they'll get sacked. This would create a workload void and too much workload will be upon A level workers, before they chip into a level B due to workload. Moreover to minimize the workload Neflix would have to hire 4 more "A" level workers which would cause rehabilitation and fresher handling costs to increase and then the project would be work 1.5 million dollars."

Internal policies of NetFlix may be different. If we are talking about A or B level workers then if the new employees know about what A level workers have been building on, then the other costs (which include employee handling cost) are considerably reduced. This can be done if all the data that is created is stored in an unified architecture which can be accessed by employees for training, much like a cloud system.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 1:50:08 PM
Re: High Performance and The Workplace: Fact vs. Fiction
"Google on the other hand, with all its internal politics and false claims, manages to give people enough opportunity so that they can grow. Google has made offices of high performing individuals more homely with more comfort and motivation. Google is a company with inside (floor) management better than most Silicon Valley industries. Other companies should learn from google."

I agree, however most companies have a work-life balance and comfort for employees. However you have to see that since Google takes only limited amount of freshers each year, they MUST have some initial expenditures towards the employee to show him/her why there was such a tough selection procedure?
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2014 | 10:46:15 PM
Re: High Performance and The Workplace: Fact vs. Fiction
Google on the other hand, with all its internal politics and false claims, manages to give people enough opportunity so that they can grow. Google has made offices of high performing individuals more homely with more comfort and motivation. Google is a company with inside (floor) management better than most Silicon Valley industries. Other companies should learn from google.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2014 | 10:43:15 PM
Re: Jumping ship
Netflix's management has gone insane to impose threats like that. It may ensure that only the best of the best employees get to work on the project, but if say, there are 10 people working on a $1 million dollar project and 4 of them are B level, they'll get sacked. This would create a workload void and too much workload will be upon A level workers, before they chip into a level B due to workload. Moreover to minimize the workload Neflix would have to hire 4 more "A" level workers which would cause rehabilitation and fresher handling costs to increase and then the project would be work 1.5 million dollars.

Netflix is an idiot to be adopting such work policies.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2014 | 10:10:24 PM
Re: Jumping ship

@kstaron   You are not alone on that -  You make a great point and I agree.  I do think their stance is a bit excessive.   I would much rather a mixture of A player types and those who are level headed for instance.  Probably the best mix.   

 

No doubt it won't take long for  A type players to move on under Nefflix's policy. I am surprised we don't here more of this, but A types don't for the most part look back or complain about the past. 

kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2014 | 5:53:42 PM
Jumping ship
Is it just me or does Netflix's policy sound more daunting than most for employees. Not only do you have be an "A" player but when your skills aren't the best for the current project you can kiss your job goodbye? That coupled with no vacation days or tracking thereof, sound like a really good way to have all your employees scared stiff they're going to be let go if they take a day off. Constant fear isn't exactly a great motivator. Seems like a lot of A players would jump ship for calmer waters.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/30/2014 | 4:53:50 PM
Re: High-performing teams
Yes, a mix of men and women on high-performing teams. sorry if that was not clear.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2014 | 4:48:21 PM
Re: High-performing teams
"The pair got a round of applause upon announcing that the best teams have good listeners, people who are empathetic, and women."

@Laurianne: Does that mean that every team should consist of women? Or, does it mean that there should be gender diversity in the team such that there's a healthy mix of males and females? I think the author was trying to mention the latter.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2014 | 4:45:02 PM
Technologists
"To survive in this scenario, everyone -- from board strategists to senior management to team managers to individual contributors -- will need to be a "technologist" to understand how specific technologies affect every part of the business"

I think that's a very valid point here. This is really something that organizations do not give much improtance to. Given the case where technology is now the backbone of the organization, you need people who know how to relate technology to business and give the best to the business using technology. I doubt if this is a criteria organizations are using while inducting people.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/30/2014 | 1:47:50 PM
High-performing teams
I saw MIT's Pentland and his colleague Thomas Malone discuss the elements of the best teams at MIT's CIO Symposium this year. The pair got a round of applause upon announcing that the best teams have good listeners, people who are empathetic, and women. In other words, your team must have A players, yes, but also, A players who offer a balanced mix in terms of style, emotional IQ, ability to develop up-and-coming talent...
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