You looking for high performance? My Top 5.

Over the years I have been impressed with the Tavistock Institute. Their insights, discoveries and careful examination of the differences between lower and higher performance work systems has much value for theorists, practitioners and organisational leaders alike.

This week I have been reflecting on the principles of high performance work systems.  By this term I simply mean bringing together work, teams (people), technology and information dashboards (real-time quality reporting) in such a design or way that this optimizes the ‘fit’ between the work and the customer/users. We want the ‘fit’ to optimise the flow of work; with feedback loops and agile responses to customer feedback. This is the purpose.. the ‘why’ we bring these elements together in this way.

These are 5 principles that hold true:-

  1. Although rule and procedures are critical to success; no more rules should be specified that are absolutely essential. And by essential we can literally ‘lean’ the rules all the way back to determine the actual essential nature of the rule. A fab example is the need for a Change Advisory Board (CAB) in IT. I have found with larger organisations these have demonstrable quality outcomes. Whereas over time as teams ‘learn, grow and adapt’ they get better at meeting the quality criteria for a CAB; and in turn, much of the CAB processes become ‘lighter, smarter and automated’ rather than in the early days ‘heavy, cumbersome and manual’. There is no right nor wrong here; each organisation will be different, and the same organisation will have differences given their own maturity.
  2. Information dashboards should be designed in the first place to provide sufficient information to the point of genuine responsive action and team problem solving. For Kanban teams this would include, for example, cumulative flow and released value; and for Scrum teams this would include Backlog stories released; bug tracking; and velocity.
  3. Each member of a team should be skilled in more than one function so we can maximise agility and adaptability. In IT we call this the ‘T-shaped’ career so as to note both specialist depth, but at the same time, breadth of associated team member work.
  4. Variances (or if you are using lean six-sigma deviations) from the ideal process should be controlled at the point of origin or point of failure. This calls for genuine process control mapping and root cause analysis.
  5. Roles that are interdependent should be within the departmental boundaries. This encourages faster and improved collaboration, communication and clarity of purpose.

What are the outcomes from the evidence from this approach you’ll be asking next? These are key:-

  • Increased agility to respond to customers
  • Lower turnover and absenteeism
  • Increased quality and better quality solutions ‘upstream’
  • Enhanced internal team motivation, resilience and sense of purpose
  • Increased learning in and between team members as across teams too
  • Reduced costs and waste

I do hope this approach brings you the same set of results as my own experiences over the last 17-years!

Take care, Jason

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