IT teams, we are at a crossroads. We’ve spent years, if not decades, being thought of as cost centers at the best of times, and more often, a source of bottlenecks. Now, we’re making a name for ourselves as facilitators of innovation and providers of legendary service. Our companies are recognizing how critical we are to their success.
But with our fresh new image comes increased pressure to perform at the highest level. Our organizations are moving ever-faster and growing ever-more complex. Can IT teams meet these challenges and deliver the goods? Absolutely.
To do so, we must take a holistic view of team performance that encompasses everything from SLAs to psychological safety. It’s time, in other words, to think in terms of “team health”.
If your team is already holding regular retrospectives, then you’re halfway there. The next step is using your “reflect and adapt” muscle to self-assess against eight attributes critical for high-performing IT service teams. We call this framework the Service Team Health Monitor. It was developed by Atlassian managers after years of studying teams and determining what set the best ones apart.
It’s simple, provocative, and empowering. Here’s how it works.
Eight signs of a healthy IT team
First, this framework works best for IT teams that are all about high volume and quality response. Team members are at the individual contributor level, with a team lead or manager. (Although if you’re on a team of IT leaders, there’s a Health Monitor for you, too.) If that doesn’t describe your team perfectly, don’t worry. If you’re an 80% fit, that’s enough for this to be worthwhile.
As you and your team walk through these eight areas together, read each definition aloud and use the questions I’ve provided to prompt a discussion. Then, ask everyone in the room to rate how they feel the team is doing in that area – Atlassian teams like to use colors (green = healthy; yellow = a bit shaky; red = not healthy) or a thumbs up/sideways/down to indicate their ratings. You’ll probably see a variety of opinions at first, but try to come to a consensus rating before moving on.
You empathize with your customers and understand what they want. You have the info you need to resolve their issues. You have an effective customer feedback loop in place that builds trust and helps you improve your service. You detect and prevent some problems, but resolve the rest quickly. You’ve set your customers up to self-serve their needs whenever possible. You balance quality with velocity.
You have a team lead who is responsible for performance, communication, and process ownership. Your team lead monitors work, champions process improvements, and communicates both inside and outside of your team.
Your team members have specialization and experience. You’re empowered to make some decisions, and escalate others. Teammates share lessons learned, swarm on tricky problems, and recognize individuals when they kick some extra ass. Your schedules and rosters evenly distribute work across the team. You have a smooth onboarding process for new team members.
You’ve defined and documented the services you offer. The scope of your work is clear, as are areas of ownership and accountability. You’ve communicated your mandate to your most important stakeholders, and agreed on success metrics that are measurable and actively monitored.
Your service levels for all areas of your service mandate are defined, accepted, and visible to stakeholders and customers. You have queue management, categorization, prioritization, and escalation processes in place. You operate at a healthy velocity, with recognized consequences for not meeting established SLAs.
Tools and processes
You have a well-designed toolset, optimized for delivering the services you offer. Your processes are documented, including workflows and owners. You follow defined processes for operationalizing new services and handling root-cause analysis.
You know who your vendors and partners are, and you trust them. Your vendor contracts are documented. You’ve established operational level agreements (OLAs) with down-stream teams and partners that allow you to uphold your commitments and retain ownership of the customer request.
Reporting and analytics
You capture customer feedback. Your performance reporting is visible and helping your team improve. Your key performance indicators (KPIs) are realistic, focused on the right metrics, and being met. Your cost to serve is known, and you’re trying to improve on it.
It’s an investment (not a tax)
Don’t treat the Health Monitor as a “one-and-done” exercise. Come back together in about a month and go through it again to see how you’re trending. In the meantime, write down your ratings for each area and choose 1 or 2 to focus on improving. Make a plan with actions, owners, and due dates that you’ll execute on over the next few weeks.
Will you ever have a grid with nothing but green ratings? Probably not. And that’s ok! We have to absorb new technologies, the changing needs of our internal customers, and the constant evolution of organizational structures and team membership. The processes and partnerships that work today will stop serving us at some point. Think of the Health Monitor as an early detection system that will alert us when it’s time to try something new.
The hour you invest in team health every 4-6 weeks pays massive dividends. IT teams at Atlassian who run regular Health Monitor sessions see benefits like stronger relationships with stakeholders, better visibility into the work of adjacent teams, fewer fire-drills, and smoother hand-offs from build phase to run phase. It all adds up to higher morale and better outcomes for the business – proving that IT teams can lead the way as our companies learn to thrive in an ever-changing world.
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Learn about other ways Atlassian is helping IT teams innovate with incident management, project planning, and more.