Team Measures:

A Report on How Organizations Measure Teams
by Marsha Willard and Darcy Hitchcock

Originally Published in EI Network June 1, 1999


Editor's Note: The following article and its included survey were published in 1999, but we feel that the elements embodied by the article are still applicable today.


We have been talking a lot about team measures with our clients over the last few years. The reactions we get to these conversations have been interesting. Sometimes when we introduce the subject of measures we see eyes glaze over. It's like talking about taxes---a tedious, detailed task of administrivia we know we have to do, but really wish we could avoid. Intellectually, everyone understands the importance of reliable and timely feedback data to continuous improvement, but few seem able to muster the energy, time, buy-in and resources to develop useful measurement systems. We wondered how many organizations were struggling with these issues and what we could learn from the successes and trials of others.

What We Asked
Last fall we developed and distributed a survey that had five categories of questions regarding teams and team-based measurement systems. The first four categories of questions had to do specifically with how organizations collected and used performance data. We asked about:

  • What teams measure
  • How they collect data
  • What they do with the data
  • What has resulted

Because measurements and results so often form the basis for reward and recognition systems, we also included a set of questions about what organizations were doing in this arena. We identified several items within each category and asked respondents to answer two questions about each of these items:

  • Do you do this in your organization?
  • If you do, how important or helpful has it been to team performance? (On a scale of 1-5)

Generally speaking, the responses we received confirmed our faith that measures and performance feedback help teams. With few exceptions, our respondents found value in performing most of the example measurement tasks we included in our survey. Inside are the highlights from the data.

Comments from our respondents tell us that establishing effective measures is important, but not easy. Intimidation is no excuse for not starting somewhere, these experienced organizations told us. Get something in place as soon as possible and expect to tweak it as you go. They reassured us that it does get easier.

Study Participants

Government/Education

30

Utilities/Transportation

26

Manufacturing

23

Healthcare

5

Non-financial Services

5

Financial Services

2

Other

8

Total Responding

99

What Teams Measure
When deciding what to measure, start first with measures that track team rather than individual performance. Our data indicates that individual performance data are of less value (judging from the ratings and number of organizations tracking it) while team data reinforce collaboration and problem solving.

Be sure that you have a balanced set of measures. One of our clients got into trouble by having their teams track only sales. Not surprisingly, sales were going up, but so were complaints from customers! To prevent the teams from sacrificing long term success for quick gains, the organization added customer satisfaction to team score cards.

Measures should also be meaningful to team members and flexible enough to change over time to suit changing team needs and issues. One of our respondents told us that they originally designed their measures to satisfy their Budget Committee. Since these had little meaning to the team members, there was no buy-in to collecting or reviewing data.

The place to start, we were told repeatedly, is with the organization's and the team's mission and vision. Use these to identify four to five key performance indicators. If you pick too many, you will confuse people about priorities. (One organization reported making the mistake of starting with 20! No one could remember them all.) Our survey respondents seemed to like some version of the set we included on the survey: costs, customer satisfaction, quality, productivity and work processes. We were also reminded to choose SMART measures: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound.

What gets measured...gets done.

How They Collect Team Data
Two points stand out on this issue: teams need feedback specific to their performance as opposed to the performance of the organization as a whole, and the feedback is more valuable if it is collected by the teams themselves. Also, using specific tools provided more value than actually collecting anecdotal data.

One of our respondents reminded us of how much easier the task of collecting and reporting data is when you have well designed information systems. The less you have to manually process, the better.

What is Done with the Data
Performance data is only valuable to the extent that it is reviewed and used. Most respondents reported reviewing their data regularly (some at every team meeting). Waiting until there is a problem or only looking at some of the data doesn't have nearly the same pay-off.

Many organizations also reported performance data as the basis for goal setting as well as team feedback and performance reviews. We have developed a process to help teams do this and we call it the Team Improvement ReviewTM process. It is built around a set of four questions:

  1. How are we doing? (an examination of the data)
  2. What have we learned? (what does the data indicate about our strengths and weaknesses)
  3. What should we do next? (setting improvement goals)
  4. What resources will we need to achieve our new goals? (what help, training, equipment, etc.)

One of our respondents made the wise suggestion to make sure your teams members know how to use their measures as a tool for implementation. Without the skills to analyze data, problem solve, or build business cases for their ideas, all they'll have is information.

What Has Been the Effect of Tracking Performance
Measures build teams. Our respondents were quite clear on this point. Measures helped their teams focus, collaborate, and make progress on targeted improvements.

Few of the people surveyed felt that tracking performance made their teams feel as if they weren't trusted to do a good job. It's just as we suspected. People want to know how they are doing.

What They Said About Rewards and Recognition
While technically a separate issue, we felt that asking about measures without asking also about rewards and recognition would have left everyone waiting for the other shoe to drop. As we saw earlier, measures are useful to a team's focus and goal setting. They also provide obvious fodder for rewards.

What our data indicated was interesting. Most organizations reported more satisfaction with simple team celebrations and "attaboys" than they did with tangible or financial rewards for either teams or individuals. This is consistent with Alfie Kohn's1 philosophy about rewards.

Most celebrations we have seen teams center around food. One of our respondents, a manager at Con-Way Transportation Services of Portland, Oregon, described a time when his team had to put in some late hours. He made a point of bringing a special dinner to them each night they worked. One night it was Chinese, another Thai, another Mexican, and so on. The big hit was the night he brought homemade lasagna. At the end of the project the team celebrated at one of Portland's best Italian restaurants.

Where performance did impact compensation, we see that profit sharing is more popular than any of the other suggested reward systems. One respondent provided this caution, however. He recommended not tying team pay to measures until the metrics have been in place for one full cycle and have been validated and agreed upon by management and teams.

Example - Using Measures to Redesign Work Processes
One of our clients is a healthcare nonprofit providing services primarily to women. Due to a number of factors, their patient revenues have been declining while their expenses have remained level. Most of their facilities do not pay for themselves and are subsidized by donations. Their management realized that they needed to turn this picture around.

Step 1: Pre-Launch - We helped them form a task force to redesign their work process. The first step was to sit down with the managers and develop a project charter for this team, carefully clarifying boundaries, purpose, expectations roles, etc. This "pre-launch process" typically takes four hours. In this we identified a set of measurable goals for the team including:

  • Ability to handle three to four patient visits per clinician per hour
  • Same day appointments for urgent needs; no more than one week wait to get other appointments
  • Wait time for patients not to exceed 10 minutes past their appointment time

These measures have kept the team focused on business needs.

Step 2: Launch - At the first meeting with the team, the managers walked the new members through the team charter as we clarified and negotiated the details. We also established team agreements for how to operate.

Step 3: Redesign - Now we are in the process of mapping their work processes, gathering baseline data on their processes, and generating ideas for meeting the measures. (Tip: Use pictures to map out the process. These icons keep people from tunneling too deeply into any one step.) We are expecting to complete the project with 8 half-day meetings, fully expecting to turn around their business.

Survey Results (ranked by importance)
What do your teams measure?

Response

Importance

Customer satisfaction

69%

4.04

Quality of end product or service

70%

3.89

Work processes

71%

3.87

Costs

63%

3.64

Productivity

75%

3.60

Team Effectiveness

61%

3.47

Individual Performance

51%

3.21

 

How do your teams collect their data?

We use formal, validated methods

55%

3.83

We collect the data ourselves

84%

3.80

We have data specifically on our team

84%

3.78

We use our own methods/instruments

69%

3.68

We have data for the whole organization

64%

3.34

Others collect and report data to us

55%

3.24

We use informal, anecdotal evidence

53%

3.22

 

What do your teams do with the data?

Regularly review all our data as a team

65%

3.87

Use data to set team and improvement goals

64%

3.84

Report the results to management

71%

3.64

Use in our official performance review process

48%

3.57

Use data to give informal feedback

47%

3.56

Base rewards/compensation on team measures

43%

3.39

Regularly review some measures but not all

44%

3.13

Review data only when there's a problem

18%

2.35

We seldom look at our team data

21%

2.35

 

What has been the effect of measuring teams?  

Measures keep us focused?

76%

3.96

Measures help us improve

71%

3.92

The data shows what we contribute

57%

3.57

Makes us feel like we are not trusted

21%

2.24

 

How do you recognize and reward teams?

Celebrations at team level

71%

3.98

Profit sharing

25%

3.84

Informal pats on the back

76%

3.75

Tangible rewards to individuals

43%

3.51

Tangible rewards to teams

45%

3.49

Celebrations for the whole organization

43%

3.43

Public recognition/reward ceremonies

53%

3.41

Gain sharing

17%

3.40

Financial rewards to individuals

36%

3.35

Financial rewards to teams

30%

3.29



Marsha Willard and Darcy Hitchcock
Darcy Hitchcock and Marsha Willard are the founders of AXIS Performance Advisors, a consulting firm that has been in business since 1990. They apply their management consulting, training and facilitation skills to help organizations find responsible solutions that meet all stakeholder needs: for owners, customers, employees, the community and the environment. They have co-authored six popular business books on such topics as teamwork, trust, work redesign and quality. Their most recent is The Business Guide to Sustainability (Earthscan 2006). They are recognized experts in the implementation of sustainability, what some are calling the next industrial revolution. Their Sustainability SeriesTM booklets show organizations how to simultaneously improve their financial, social and environmental performance. They also run the Sustainability Seminars and Tours program for Sustainable Northwest and are associates with the Zero Waste Alliance.


1. Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes - by Alfie Kohn, published by Houghton Mifflin Company

(link will take you to Amazon.com)