Thought Leadership

November 10, 2020

Great Talent Produces Great Results

We cover some of the most common techniques on how to continuously develop your teams and build them into a high performing organization.

Executive Summary

In every profession, individuals who have more training, skills, knowledge, and abilities will produce far greater results than someone who is just average or a brand new apprentice in a given field.

If you are conducting a high value military raid, would you rather send in SEAL Team 6 or a group of brand new recruits just out of Basic Training? Naturally, you are going to send in your best. The new recruits need a lot more seasoning, training and experience.

And this is also very true within any field, including the technology industry. At the same time, you have to get this experience by actually doing some aspects of the job and learning. And this requires an investment on the part of any organization. The alternative, is that you have to go out and hire talent that already has these skills, knowledge and abilities that you require, this however, can be very time consuming and expensive.

So, you are always having to strike a balance between what your budget can afford and training and developing more junior staff. In this blog article we will cover some of the most common techniques on how to continuously develop your teams and build them into a high performing organization.

Learning is a Lifelong Process

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”  Socrates

Developing any skill or talent is a lifelong pursuit, and this is especially true within the technology field, where things change every year. Whether that is what version of a database we are using, which programming language, how our Cloud / virtualized environments are operating, what design methods are we using, etc. As leaders we need to encourage all of our staff to learn and develop new skills and talents as well as encouraging the most senior members on your team(s) to mentor and develop the younger and more junior team members.

Which techniques you decide to use and implement will in large part depend upon the following:

  • What is your Budget for Training?
  • What are your Training Objectives?
  • What do you want the Team to learn each month?
  • What skills do you need to develop on the team?
  • What future skills does the Team need to learn?
  • What cross-training does the Team need, so you aren’t critically injured by the proverbial “Hit by a Bus” scenario.
  • Who is the Target Audience for each Training Session / Activity:
  • A class on React Native is perfect for Front-End developers.
  • While a leadership reaction course is perfect for your managers and key leaders.
  • Do we have the Talent internally to do the Training in question? Or do we need to use outside experts.
Real World Example

All of us “joke” about someone being hit by the bus, and then the organization has to scramble quickly to figure out what to do and how to keep everything working correctly. For me this happened when I had just started as a VP of software development at Universal Technical Institute. Our Sr. Director of network engineering and most of his team took a few days off and took a bus trip to go skiing in Utah. On the way back the driver was going too fast for the road conditions and ended up flipping the charter bus.

Fortunately, none of our team were killed, but all of them were seriously injured in the crash. While one team organized a rescue party to transport them once they were stabilized to hospitals in the Phoenix area; the rest of us started pitching in and helping the remaining staff as best as we could. Anyone within IT who knew anything about networks and servers was recruited to help out.

Also fortunately, our Sr. Director had documented all of the critical and high priority items along with instructions, so while it was challenging - we were still able to operate the business, while he and his team recovered in the hospital. This just shows that you must be prepared for these possibilities.

Techniques in Developing Talent

Lunch & Learns

$

Pizza is cheap, this is a minor blip on your budget and you’re doing it during lunch.

Pros

  • You’re using your own team to do the training.
  • Easy to put together - a 30 to 45 minute session during lunch.
  • Provide food and people will come.
  • Topic can be anything - even if it is a story / lesson that they learned in their career.
  • People love to learn from their peers.
  • You can plan out a 3-month training calendar with topics.
  • The chosen instructor will need to research their topic.

Cons

  • Value of the Training will be “spotty” at times, some good, some bad.
  • Not always getting the latest information on a topic.
  • People are generally afraid of public speaking - especially Introverts (a.k.a. Most developers)
  • Beware of falling into the trap where only a few people are the Instructors - you want to spread this around and make everyone participate.

Conferences

$$ - $$$$

Costs of the conference badge, travel costs, etc.

Pros:

  • Attending lab sessions can be very useful.
  • You get to network with other technology professionals.
  • If you aren’t learning anything, you can always walk out and go to another session.

Cons:

  • Most of the sessions will be sales pitches for a new product.
  • You really need to do research on the individual sessions to figure out which ones are actually valuable.
  • Due to Covid-19 most Conferences are done remote now, which is not as interactive.
  • Little or no Q&A time.
  • Presenters may or may not be technical, or even skilled at presenting.

Online Courses

$$ - $$$

Pros:

  • Employees can take it at their leisure.
  • Staff can get instant feedback based on testing scenarios.
  • Staff can take the course / section over and over again, as needed.
  • Often additional resources are provided.
  • Sometimes there are online instructors to answer questions.

Cons:

  • Not as effective as in-person training.
  • People will procrastinate, so it needs to be very structured.
  • You have to follow the learning path that the provider created.
  • Many individuals need more interaction with an Instructor in order to learn.
  • Some courses are great, others not so much, so you need to do some research to figure out which ones have value.

In Person Training

$$$$$

Sending staff to an education facility or bringing the trainer to you.

Pros:

  • Who doesn’t want to attend an in-person training course?
  • In most cases these courses include multiple labs.
  • Also, there is a lot of time for Q&A with the instructor.
  • Typically the best type of learning form.

Cons:

  • The largest con is the costs for the training, classroom environment, travel, etc.
  • Even if you hire a Trainer / Consultant to conduct a course on-site at your office it can still be very expensive.
  • Some cultures and personality types will hold people back from asking questions.
  • If you send your team to an education facility, then only those who attend get trained. You will need to figure out how to expand their new knowledge to others.

Individual or Group Research

$$

Can be done individually or as a small group.

Pros:

  • This follows the Google & 3M model, where engineering staff are given a certain number of hours each week to conduct research on their own.
  • Great ideas and brainstorming can come out of this, especially if a small group is asked to think about a certain problem or topic.
  • Can be a very good morale builder.

Cons:

  • If you’re doing this Individually, then try to schedule “Research Time”, so that everyone knows what they are doing on that day / time.
  • Otherwise, it can easily bleed into their normal work hours and cause them to be less productive.

Realistic Training or Simulators

$ - $$$$$

This can be as simple as running a leadership reaction course to a full blown aircraft simulator or something in between - like Practicing disaster recovery or an application failure.

Pros:

  • People learn best by doing.
  • If you Train for what can happen, when it does happen the team will be better prepared and know what to do.
  • This is often the best type of training, especially for processes, procedures and dealing with ambiguity.
  • Often you can find out which leaders / team members can and will remain calm in a critical situation, and who won’t.
  • Can easily be done in a small team format.

Cons:

  • Some people do not handle ambiguity very well - so they may panic under the stress of the scenario.
  • This does take some to set up and create the scenarios.
  • And it is absolutely critical that the person creating the scenarios DOES NOT provide this information to the individuals in advance. The whole idea is for them to react to a situation in real-time.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that if you want to have an “A-Team” that is high performing, you have to practice and develop your team members constantly. Introducing them to new techniques and concepts, as well as providing an environment where they can try out new things or come up with their own solutions to a problem. This is an investment in your team, both as a whole and on an individual basis.

The alternative, which sometimes you have to do, is hire the talent who already have these skills and abilities. However, this can be very expensive. But even if you hire a technical rock-star, they still need to learn your internal processes and procedures.

Organizations that treat continuing education as just a standard process or thing that must be done, will be rewarded tremendously in the long term; as your team will become more productive, produce higher quality output, come up with more innovative solutions and be able to better react in a crisis situation.

We hope you enjoyed this article,

Thank you, David Annis.

David Annis
David is a VP and Agile Coach within ArkusNexus, having served in multiple CIO, VP of Software Development roles previously. He is based in Tijuana, Mexico, and assists our Sales, Marketing, and Operations Teams on critical initiatives and projects.
dannis@arkusnexus.com
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