Building a high-performance team

This month, I got my hands on a copy of Amp it up by Frank Slootman, the CEO of Snowflake. The book is a follow up to his LinkedIn post with the same title. It was one of those articles, I shared with my team as soon as I read it. Based on the book, I created a small manifesto for high-performance teams in the modern workplace.

Raise the bar

How you do anything is how you do everything. Whether you are building a product or cleaning your desk, do it to the best of your abilities. Hold yourself to the highest standards and take pride in your work.

The easiest way to get an item checked off your list is to lower the standard. This gets easier especially for tasks where there is no supervision.

There is a famous story about how Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple got his first lesson on raising the bar and caring deeply about ones work. Jobs was once helping his father build a fence around their family home in Mountain View. While working, his father, Paul shared a piece of advice with Jobs: “You’ve got to make the back of the fence, that nobody will see, just as good looking as the front of the fence, even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.”

There is a simple question you can ask to help your team raise the bar in everything they do. Whenever someone presents you with a proposal, note, feature etc ask them what they think instead of telling them what you think. If It is nothing short of ‘100% love it’ then everyone knows the bar is not being met.

Align everyone

For a boat to reach its destination, everyone should row in the same direction. This happens when everyone in the team is aligned with the same goals and vision. In misaligned teams, people start rowing in all directions. They will invent new personal metrics, side quests and optimise for those.

The easiest way to align everyone to the mission is to set OKRs at the start of a quarter. This is even better if the OKR setting is undertaken as a company-wide activity and not just at the leadership level.

Sharpen your focus

“Priority” should ideally only be used as a singular word. The moment you have many priorities, you actually have none.

There are 24 hours in a day and there is only so much you can do in this time. A team that tries to do everything they can think about or get their hands on will probably do none of it exceptionally well. If you want to raise the bar, sharpen your focus and work on fewer things at a time. Constantly re-evaluate your priorities and when a new task pops up, ask about the consequences of not doing it.

Have the same focus and clarity while you communicate the priorities to your team. Distil things down to their essentials and be crystal clear. Vagueness has a tendency to multiply as it moves down the org tree.

Pick up the pace

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Leaders in an organisation set the pace. When someone tells you they will get back by next week, ask them, why not tomorrow? This is a mindset change and once it happens the team gets an infusion of energy and urgency. Top performers crave such a culture. Every now and then, apply pressure to move things along.

There is a great article by Ben Horowitz titled Do you feel pressure or do you apply pressure. Give it a read.

Continuous growth

“To stand still is to fall behind.” Mark Twain

In the modern workplace, the fastest way to fall behind is to stand still. Things change on a daily basis. Just take a look at the tools, systems and processes you are using today compared to two years back. There is a simple test to check whether you are falling behind. Ask yourself, “am I doing the same things I was doing a year back at work”. If the answer is yes, then you are falling behind

Learn, constantly reinvent yourself and move forward in both work and life.