Sam Benskin

The Most Important Metric

What is your single most important metric for your team?

Is it new visitors? returning customers? new bookings? sales? margin? EBITDA? Perhaps it's something more specific like average percentage viewed in videos, or engagement in social activities?

In my opinion, the single most important metric for your team is: happiness. Let me explain why.

Whilst it's important to measure your performance, outcomes and contribution to company value, they are all indicators of how the team has performed over the period being examined. What this won't tell you is how they could have performed.

If you'd have pushed them harder, would they have delivered more? As a manager it's traditional to believe that the more you apply your managerial influence and apply pressure, the better your team will perform and the more value they will add to the business. But what is actually more likely to happen is that this can lead to micromanagement, decrease in trust from your team and an overall decrease in measurable outcomes. In other cases, a temporary boost in delivery from these techniques will result in a longer term dip in performance, and ultimately morale. Each time you push them harder, the closer they get to burnout and then everyone loses.

Instead, consider the evidence from Google in Project Aristotle, the study into "what makes a team effective at Google". The study is worth reading in full, but for the purposes of this article I'll briefly summarise their findings.

The key takeaway from the research was the following:

Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions

I believe this was a ground breaking discovery. For years, managers have attempted to recruit "Rockstar" developers who devote themselves to the business and have the highest technical skills. What they really should have been focussing on, was putting the right people together, in the right environment, working on the right things.

The research concluded that there are five key dynamics that high performing teams displayed versus their counterparts in lower performing teams:

  1. Psychological Safety - Can I take risks without fear? Can I challenge others for discussion not conflict?
  2. Dependability - Can I depend on the other team members and can they depend on me?
  3. Structure & Clarity - Do I know what our team wants to achieve and how we are going to achieve it?
  4. Meaning of Work - Is this personally important to me?
  5. Impact of Work - Does what I do matter? Am I creating change?

When people are given the space to take risks and be vulnerable in the team without fear; teammates that can be depended on and to feel needed by the team; a clear purpose; something important to work on; and something that will have an impact, they are put in a position where they can excel and really deliver all they can for the business.

You should no longer focus on the individual and what needs to be done to make them the best they can be. Instead you should focus on providing the right environment and conditions, and then the team will naturally excel.

How do you know if you're providing the right environment for your team to become effective? By measuring the above 5 key dynamics and most importantly, the happiness of each team member.

Personally, I like to be direct and ask the questions that get to the point. For psychological safety you could simply ask each team member to anonymously rate on a score of 1 (low) to 5 (high) how they feel about each of these statements:

"I feel I can take risks without fear of failure"

"I can openly challenge any team member without fear of reprisal or judgement but with the knowledge that it will generate discussion, not conflict"

As for team happiness, I've yet to find a better question than simply:

"How happy are you feeling?"

It's simple, allows complete flexibility for the individual to consider it and answer how best represents how they are feeling, and it's how they are feeling that truly reflects in what they do and how they do it.

So to adapt a quote from John F. Kennedy:

Ask not what your team can do for you, ask what you can do for your team

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