New Year’s resolutions for high-achieving teams

One of my goals is to try to catch up with my mentors at least every one to six months, depending on the closeness of our relationship. Just a few days ago, I had a great conversation with my former boss Janet Hanson. Janet is the founder of 85 Broads (now Ellevate Network), the professional women’s network whose team I credit for teaching me many skills such as how to network, be flexible and wear many hats in a startup environment. Among other things, Janet shared with me that she is using a new social tool and marketplace called Goaloop to track her goals. Goaloop was created by Lori Terrizzi with a team largely from Columbia University, and it nicely harnesses today’s digital economy. It operates with the principle that “no matter what goal you may have, someone else has a goal that will help you achieve it.”


In the spirit of keeping myself accountable, one of my New Years’ resolutions includes the ability to bike 50 miles by next May (look out for a sports-related blog from me later this year). This would be a significant leap for me – the longest rides I’ve done to date have been 25 miles – so I’ll need to make a plan and stay disciplined about my conditioning despite winter weather conditions. I’ll be using a Fitbit to track certain vitals like my sleep and heart rate. I have also just joined my first non-profit board of directors. I want to be a successful influencer in my first year, specifically by helping to run events such as our annual gala. Among several work goals, I want to work more with our global community at IBM – one specific project I’m developing is a cross-cultural training session with an India-based colleague that we’ll be delivering this spring. And finally, I need to get better about saying “no” at times. As an extrovert who likes to participate in every activity and say “yes” to every leadership opportunity presented to me, I am slowly learning to be more strategic about what I can effectively take on.

What are some of your goals for this upcoming year?

The arrival of a new year is an opportunity for teams to reflect on how they are working together and delivering results. At the time I first blogged about Agile last spring, my own team consisted of five experienced hires (5-15 years of work experience), whereas now we have grown to eight people, including a few hires straight out of undergraduate programs. This new configuration required a few modifications to our ways of working. When I’m delegating work to younger colleagues and thinking about how to keep all of us accountable for project deliverables, I try to envision myself as a 22-year old. I think about the kind of guidance I would have desired and needed at that stage of my career, which is a bit different than what I need now. We also have benefitted from learning more about each other’s strengths through a StrengthsFinder assessment. StrengthsFinder is a tool that lets users complete an assessment to learn more about their five greatest strengths. You receive descriptions of those strengths, questions to think about how this can apply to one’s life and work, and ideas for action.

The IBM Center for Applied Insights recently commissioned a study on star qualities of mobile application development teams that I think also offers some universal lessons for teams striving for excellence. Mobile projects can be very challenging. In fact, only one-third of the 585 participants reported success along the study’s criteria (i.e., fully meeting budget, schedule and project objectives). Plus, mobile is truly becoming a “new normal” in our world today. It enables enterprises to interact and engage with customers and employees in novel ways – that is, if they can adapt quickly enough. Here are a few things that we learned from the study:

(Click to enlarge infographic) Learn more -
(Click to enlarge infographic) Learn more –

Some key takeaways? Each team had at least one experienced hire. They used cloud APIs to maximize their flexibility and speed, rather than “reinventing the wheel” with a complex setup process. The teams collaborated closely with each other, as well as their stakeholders, experts and end users. And not unlike Goaloop, they leverage the power of social media to get feedback and refine their goals.

There are dozens of lists on the Internet with suggestions on what teams and individuals can do to improve their performance and achieve their goals. Instead of trying to assemble “the” definitive list (a proposition I’ll happily leave to the experts), here are a few ideas that have resonated with me:

Do research differently. It’s easy to stick with tried and true ways of doing certain things, but that often isn’t enough in this rapidly evolving market. Improving how my team does things involved upgrading our tools – for instance, my team is now working with Watson Analytics in order to obtain insights more quickly – and implementing agile methodologies.

Don’t be boring. Guard against being confusing. Some of my mentors have suggested to me that it can be relatively easy to climb the career ladder initially if you’re talented and put in the hard work. Breaking through to executive positions, however, at least at a large firm, can be another story given how much the pyramid narrows at the top. Honing soft skills such as your verbal and written communication are a huge part of making this leap. Think about what you can do to clarify your message in order to get things done (not to mention rise above the fray given all of the clutter on social media). Consistent with my own StrengthsFinder assessment, I like to share personal stories when appropriate, and I’m exhilarated by learning from the stories of visionaries who have changed the course of history in some way. Others may find other techniques such as carefully placed humor or surprising statistics to be really effective.

 Engage diverse experts and stakeholders throughout the process. Effectively tackling the most difficult problems often involves asking questions that we didn’t know we had, and may require pivoting as a team if we realize that our initial hypotheses were wrong. I’ve also learned that if I rely on too many experts who are working in the same area of the business instead of branching out, I can start to hear the same messages instead of stretching myself to think more critically about an issue.

Celebrate and communicate your successes. This is important throughout the year to keep employees motivated, but what better time than now to thank your teammates for a job well done?

Wishing you a very successful 2016!

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