How To Maximize Your Team's Impact
How to get the most from your team by tapping into their full skill-set.
Summary: Maximize the output of individuals on your teams by giving them ownership. A great way to do this is by setting challenges aligned with their skill level. This fosters ownership which can improve the aggregate impact of a team, increase your leverage and help your team advance their careers.
Last week, I was working on a strategy for a newly formed product pod. While I was writing the doc, I realized that our plan could really benefit from designs of some of the roadmap items we listed.
Initially, I wanted to ask my designer, “Can you mock up feature X?” But I paused. This was a senior designer with a breadth of expertise. She could obviously do mock-ups, but the real skills a senior designer brings to the team are product vision, creativity and understanding of our users.
Asking her to mock up an idea that I thought of would be like asking Gordon Ramsay to follow my grilled cheese sandwich recipe. 🥲
It’s a reminder of a lesson a former manager shared with me: the role of a PM is to get the most value from your team. Often, this involves leveraging all of the skills that your teammates have.
I updated my question to be, “We’re being asked for our 2-3 year product vision. Any ideas on how we can drive clarity here?” I could see the gears in her brain start turning. She decided to lead a design sprint with the whole team to get an answer to this question. Better yet, she would become an owner of the user experience and a knowledge source on everything related to the product vision.
This brings us to a natural question: how can we get the most value from each team member? One way that I used in this situation is to set big challenges to create ownership. Let’s dig more into both of these parts.
By the end, you should be able to turn small-challenge-low-ownership asks into big-challenge-high-ownership. This will allow you to increase your own leverage, the output of your team and the rate at which team members progress in their careers.
🏋️♀️ Setting challenges
Smart people love challenges. Specifically, they love challenges that require a mix of their current skills and skills they are hoping to develop.
Brandon Chu, GM of Shopify, has a great take on tailoring your PM style based on your team's skill level. He suggests understanding two things:
The relative skill of a team member: understand where they are in their careers. What are their strong suits, their growth areas and their career goals?
Your relative skillset: Compare your skills/experience with that of your team. Understand where you’re able to set challenges and where you’ll need to follow the lead of more skilled/senior people.
Mapping these out on a grid can help understand the right way to create ownership within your team:
When in a space to “support,” lean on your teammate to define the right challenges to focus on. When in a space where you can “partner” or “lead,” aim to define these with or for your teammates.
Once you’ve identified the relative skill of you and your teammates, think about engaging the skills you’d expect from your teammate’s skill level. Aim to engage multiple layers of their skillset:
Engaging the right skills for their experiences allows you to create interesting challenges to tackle and take full advantage of their skillset.
👤 Create Ownership
Ambiguous challenges create ownership. This is because they require deep understanding and forming opinions about a problem space. There are benefits to having multiple owners on a team:
Maximize individual impact: Teams will have more impact when everyone engages their full skillsets and driving areas independent of the PMs involvement.
Increases your own leverage: If other people are stepping up, you can step back and focus on other areas. This will help you carve time for tackling your own ambiguous challenges.
Helps team members grow their own careers: Tackling big challenges is essential for career growth. Helping your team grow their careers will boost retention, morale and the raw skills available on your team.
In addition to aligning their skills with the level of ownership you want to cultivate, there are two other ways I’ve seen as effective for creating ownership:
Involve would-be owners early on strategy, goals and major decisions: I try to include key team members in the early days of creating team artifacts (ex. strategy, roadmap). Tactically, I share with them the first draft of these documents — typos and all. I’ll also tag them in areas where I feel their specific input would be valuable.
Position them as leaders: Once you’ve discussed ownership with someone, continually reinforce their ownership when communicating with other people. For example, if your designer owns the end-to-end experience, direct all questions about the UX to them.
Create challenges that foster ownership. These are generally tasks that are large in scope and require them to engage a range of skills. This helps to create a culture of ownership — an essential ingredient of an effective product team.
Giving low-skill tasks to high-skilled teammates is a waste of their talents.
Engage your team’s full capacity by creating challenges in line with their skill level.
Ownership allows the whole team to have more impact, increases your own leverage and helps individuals advance their careers.
🖼 Internet Things I’m Enjoying
The Most Epic Battle in Music History by Spotify: a great retelling of the famed Metallica vs. Napster case and how that impacted Spotify’s product.
Cracks in the Great Stagnation by Caleb Watney: reasons to be optimistic that the stagnation of the last 20-30 years may be coming to an end.
You Probably Shouldn’t Work at a Startup by Evan Armstrong: a contrarian take that was all over my Twitter feed this week. Let me know what you think.
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