Team Friction: Tech Issue? Or People Issue?

There’s a problem with your team. They can’t seem to get projects done on time, they’re not communicating, and what they are getting done isn’t working for the customer. They keep complaining about the systems and tools they are using, but you’re not sure that’s really the issue. Is this a technology problem, a people problem, or both? How can you tell? It's so much easier to deal with a bug fix than it is to figure out why your team can’t get it together.

Something Isn’t Working

Anyone who has spent time managing teams of people knows that friction inside the team can arise for many reasons, in many ways. The communication isn’t good, or it’s inconsistent. Someone misses a deadline and there’s a ripple effect throughout the project. Mistakes are made, and customers are unhappy. Projects fail. The team tells you the problem is siloed information or outdated technology. You know it’s been a while since you threw money at your infrastructure, so maybe they’re right and you need to invest in some new systems. It’s clear something’s wrong, but how can you tell exactly what it is? Without a real understanding of the source problem, it’s easy for team friction to masquerade as a technology issue when in reality it is rooted in the team itself.

Operating Systems

While most companies have well-structured IT systems, they tend to lack the same level of organization and effective management when it comes to their people. If you know about the book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, you know about the concept of a “business operating system”. It made sense to us when we read it, and it matched up with our Web Reliability principles really well. The writer of that book created a teachable set of business tools called the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) to provide business leaders with a straightforward proven people-operating system for small and mid-sized companies. It seemed natural for Solspace Founder/CEO Mitchell Kimbrough to turn to EOS in late 2022 as a way to reorganize and reposition the company for growth toward its big goals. Just like the technology our company works with, the humans at Solspace operate according to their core systems too - beliefs, values, goals, relationships, and so on. But the truth is that a well-functioning team with an understanding of flow can manage to be effective even without clearly defined processes and systems like EOS. Of course, those things support the team in achieving efficiency and excellence, but in a moment of crisis it all comes down to having a healthy team; they can overcome almost any failure of planning, execution, or support. So how do you start with a team friction problem and end up with a healthy (or healthier) team?

People Want to Do Good Work

The real issue underlying every instance of team friction is inside of the team itself, but this doesn’t mean that individual team members are doing anything wrong. Most people really do want to do good work and do the right thing. The team is probably struggling to do the best job they can, given their circumstances. Friction is almost always a symptom of a system that’s not set up optimally, just like the websites we work on. So you have to look at what sort of a system has been set up for the team to operate within. There’s another great book that talks about this, a tech management classic called Peopleware that is premised on the idea that all software and technology development issues are actually people issues at their core. Chapter One is titled, “Somewhere Today, A Project Is Failing.”

Diagnosing The Problem

The top-level components of the Solspace Web Reliability system are team, plan, and action. The other elements that directly impact them are motivation, resistance, and management. These ideas all work together to create a system, a framework of function or dysfunction. The team component, the human part of the system, is the most important. Using our Web Reliability tools, we can look behind the symptoms of team friction to see the real issues with the system the team is working in. Now, you don’t have to use our Web Reliability tools to do this assessment, but you do have to ask the right questions. Is everyone clear on what’s expected of them, and do they have the resources they need to do it? If they don’t, you’ve set them up to fail, and you’ll end up with demotivated, frustrated people. Is everyone on the same page? Is information flowing to everyone consistently and accurately? If not, they won’t be able to coordinate, execute their work properly, or deliver on time. Is everyone equally accountable across the company for keeping agreements and delivering as promised? An unreliable manager can’t provide consistent support or direction, and the team will reflect that with lower morale and failed deliverables. Are there best practices everyone uses consistently for the daily work of running the company? If everyone is winging it, there will be inefficiencies and mistakes that steal everyone’s time and energy, and excellence anywhere becomes an impossibility. What are the blocking issues? Where are the pain points, the frustrations, the broken pieces of the systems? Go to the source. Talk with your people. Speaking of which, is there an established way for team members to provide feedback honestly and regularly? We talk about systems, but we know that team members aren’t website components or software. They’re humans, and everything begins with respecting and supporting them as people, and individuals with specific talents. This is where the team friction is really coming from, and how it will get resolved.

People Problems Come First

So now you know that your team friction issue is most definitely a people problem, not a technology problem. Web development and technology projects are team sports, and you’ll know you’re getting it right when the team suddenly seems bigger, better, and somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Ready for the Superbowl. When a team has a clear common goal, has everything they need to achieve it, and knows you have their backs, they become champions, they don’t care who gets the credit for the success, and the work becomes fun. This is a healthy team. This is a team that can sustain motivation and builds momentum. This is the team you want to have. They can make magic with old laptops and outdated software, their communication is so good that the data silos slow them down but don’t stop them. Of course, if you take care of the technology problems once your team’s doing well, you’ll be golden. You can stand back and watch your team excel.

We’re Happy To Help

While we use Web Reliability as part of all our internal and external projects, we also offer it as a separate consulting service. If you’re interested in getting to the bottom of the friction on your team but could use some support, we can help! Get in touch and tell us your story.

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