Every team is akin to a mechanical machine. And, like a machine, it's essential to make time for calibration.
"Calibrating" in the context of team dynamics means aligning a team's understanding, goals, and expectations. This alignment is vital to ensure everyone on the team works toward the most recent organizational goals. It helps teams enhance communication, manage performance, and mitigate conflict around prioritization and expectations. Regular calibration also means the team can adapt to change efficiently, as everyone will be familiar with the calibration process.
How often a team calibrates will depend on the type of work the team is doing and organizational and group dynamics. A perspective I like to take is making calibration cadence the same speed with which you want the team to perform. For example, fast-moving teams can calibrate monthly, when a shifting landscape of priorities and quick learning is pivotal.
Typically this calibration process is the responsibility of a Product Manager, though Product Designers and Engineering Leads/Managers can contribute or be responsible too.
When it comes time to calibrate your team, here are the questions I think every person should be able to address:
1. Have we defined a clear and prioritized list of objectives for our product?
The first step is to determine your key objectives. Factors like market demand, business goals, or user needs can help you to define these. You could conduct market research, user interviews, or surveys and review your business's strategic plans to define your ongoing priorities.
2. Are these objectives tied to tangible and measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) within our control?
Once you have priorities, determine how you'll measure success. You can use almost any measure of success. Still, a proven way of measuring efforts in a team is Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): indicators of success that are tangible, measurable, and ideally under your control. Use tools like a team dashboard, regular share-outs of progress toward objectives, and balanced scorecards to help structure your performance measures.
3. Has the entire team been effectively communicated regarding these objectives and the reasons behind their importance?
Ensuring your entire team understands these priorities and why they're essential is paramount to performance success. You could communicate priorities and KPIs through a team meeting or something more informal and async (such as a regular Slack update to the team), depending on what's most effective for your team. Be open to questions and discussions to ensure everyone is on the same page and get total team commitment and momentum behind the priorities.
4. Are our stakeholders fully informed about our objectives, and do they understand why these are crucial for our product's success?
Like keeping the team updated on priorities and the reasoning behind your objectives, you'll also want to communicate priorities to stakeholders.
Stakeholders are anyone with a vested interest in the team's success: your manager and other functional managers (Director/VP of Engineering or Product Management, for example), organizational executives, and so on. Use shareouts with these audiences to fine-tune your strategy and priorities. Again, be prepared to explain why these priorities matter and be open to stakeholder questions and input.
5. Have we effectively communicated our objectives and their significance to our partners?
If you're working with internal/external partners or high-touch customers, they must also understand your priorities. Preparing a formal presentation and regular check-ins are great ways to inform and align with your partners.
6. When was the last time we revisited these objectives, and do we still agree that they align with our current strategy and market needs?
The final question is about reassessment. The business environment changes rapidly, and so too, might your priorities. Set a regular schedule (e.g., quarterly or monthly) to revisit these priorities as a leadership team, assess whether they're still valid, and adjust as necessary.
None of these questions or processes will surprise you if you've been part of a well-maintained team. Yet, many teams need to address and regularly reassess one or more (or all) of these vital questions.
Whether you're a product manager or a product designer (or in a completely different role), you can take each of these questions to your team to identify where there are opportunities for calibration. In fact: that's what I'm doing with my team now.
In the end, team calibration is a process that helps align your team's understanding, goals, and expectations.
The questions I've outlined here aim to ensure clear and consistent communication of priorities across the team, stakeholders, and partners and establish measurable metrics to track progress. The ultimate goal is to drive better alignment, enhance performance, and ensure a shared understanding of objectives. And that's everyone's job on a team.
BONUS: Here are 15 additional questions to ask during calibration exercises with your team:
- Do we have a shared understanding of our target audience and their needs?
- Are we continuously gathering and incorporating user feedback into our product development process?
- Do we have a clear, shared vision of our product's value proposition?
- Are our current resources (time, people, budget) sufficient to achieve our objectives?
- How well does our product align with the overall business strategy?
- What competitive advantage does our product have in the market, and how can we enhance it?
- Are we tracking the right metrics to measure the success of our product?
- How are we managing risks and what is our plan for unforeseen challenges?
- Are we fostering a culture of open communication, collaboration, and continuous learning within our team?
- How are we fostering innovation and encouraging new ideas within our team?
- Are we maintaining a sustainable pace of work, to avoid burnout and maintain team morale?
- What is our strategy for maintaining and improving product quality?
- How are we keeping up with technological advancements and market trends that could impact our product?
- Do we have a clear roadmap for the future development of the product?
- How are we ensuring that all team members feel valued, heard, and motivated?