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Opposite to Agile which is overcomplicated, I have observed and experienced team effectiveness topic being oversimplified by reducing it to efficiency/productivity or in simpler words: working faster/doing more. This is a far too simple and a bit out of date. Do not get me wrong - I am not offering to overcomplicate the understanding of effectiveness, but introducing clarity of terms efficiency, productivity, effectiveness and how those relate in the 3rd decade of the 21st century might be useful. This page's purpose is just that. At the end of this page, you should be clearer about the team effectiveness and better understand how I can help improving it.

From individual to team

Let's start with understanding terms. Some people say that:

efficient = doing things right...

productive = right done things!

effective = right things done?

I like the way it is put. Let's look at those deeper.

efficient = doing things right...

From a definition standpoint, word efficient is applied to a non-living resources. For example, energy-efficient heater or fuel-efficient car engine. The less electrical energy or fuel is consumed by these devices, the more efficient those are. The other example would be about computer processors - the faster ones are more efficient than the slower ones because those calculate faster and spend less time to get job done. However, these processors might be consuming more power and be overloaded with simultaneous tasks which is negatively affecting the efficiency. And one more aspect of efficiency is quality - how well something works. If we take the above heater example - it might be very energy efficient, but it might be turning itself off at some conditions causing room's temperature decrease. This would mean a lower quality heater. So, efficiency is a compound of at least resource availability, load, speed and quality for a non-living resources.

Let's try to adapt efficiency to us humans and how we work:

If we are available, work fast, spend less time, without errors - we are efficient. For example, if we fix five car gearboxes a day, we are efficient and if just three - we are less efficient. And our availability plays a big role here too. If we are not working full day - our efficiency is lower. The same is true if we are expected to fix ten gearboxes, but our capacity is five. Probably, the quality will be sacrificed if still want to hit ten of those.

But as we know not all work is like that these days. It is actually far from how many of us - engineers, developers, designers, etc. work. Does efficiency still apply? I think yes. Read on.

What contributes to efficiency of humans at work and especially at knowledge work? Probably many of above including age, sleep quality, availability, experience, skills, tools, practices, conditions and more. Definitely more factors than for non-living resources. And there is one thing that especially deserves to be mentioned influences our individual and team efficiency relationships with other individuals. In case of gearboxes we might be working alone, but in teams where interaction is much more present and needed - this might be quite an important factor. Significant to mention here is that as we start working together with others, our individual efficiency invisibly transfers into team efficiency.

productive = right done things!


From a definition standpoint, word productive is applied to humans. When we are efficient, our productivity raises and we can produce more. We can create more units of whatever (output). This is obvious, countable and usually easy to measure. Important to note here that this is usually easy in factory like setup where we need to produce more of the same. In knowledge work of VUCA world, being efficient is great, but being productive must be taken with caution.


Why so?

Imagine you are a PowerPoint guru and you can quickly create wonderful presentations (efficient). Now, how many wonderful presentations can you create in one day? What is your productivity? Probably a lot, but why? Does anyone need a lot of wonderful presentations from you? Most likely not. What someone might need is an effect, change, impact from maybe even just one presentation (low productivity, high effect) or a presentation at the right moment during the day (low productivity, high effect). You might want to ask here: low productivity - What to do with it? What we are talking here about is perfectly demonstrated by Henrik and his team. And here we already transfer into team productivity:


The video above does not show that, but what would make sense to do in between active work with balls? Quick answer - anything else, but balls. Do anything else - make a food, clean up, go for walk, learn something, read a book.


Here I want to introduce a new term for productivity in the knowledge work of the 21st century - diversivity. It is how many different things you manage to do during a typical day (at work, at home, elsewhere). In order to be productive at work, you have to do other things elsewhere - make food, play with children, go out during the day. This is a required balance of activities for the mental health of knowledge workers in the 21st century!

effective = right things done?

From a definition standpoint, effective means having a desired effect on something. Sometimes desired effect is obvious (you need to produce X amount of something for someone), sometimes desired effect must be understood because it is not obvious (the previous example with PowerPoint presentation). Actually, effective is where things become especially complex. Let's look at it.

First, going back to team efficiency - when we start working together, we consciously and unconsciously influence one another. This is the first level of effect that we create inside team. It is rather negative (unhealthy) or positive (healthy). There's name for that - team dynamics or climate/atmosphere that we create.


Second, going back to team productivity - understanding what is the that unit of work that is creating the biggest effect and around which we need to organize teams and teams organize their ways of working IS AN ART. In Henrik's video it is a ping pong ball and one small team, but in a knowledge work - much more blurry thing. It is so easy to start creating to do items and assigning tasks to various people, but that might not be the right team setup nor the right task structure causing process and work content chaos.

And now the team effectiveness the above video from Henrik demonstrates team productivity and does not discuss team effectiveness at all. It clearly shows that by working optimally as a team they can produce an optimal amount of balls per time unit. And important here is this: If that is what customer needs, if that is what creates the biggest effect on customer, then team productivity = team effectiveness and voila - we are successful! However, in many cases in the knowledge work world of service & product development, after being productive, we need to validate what is our effect. We need to validate the tangible output of our assumptions (actual deliverables) regarding the kind of effect it is creating on its environment. And here is the breaker: any team is effective, even if it is not producing anything. In this case, the team is burning various kinds of resources and that is also an effect, just not that positive, but rather negative one in many ways. The more often we validate the effect of what we do, the higher the chance to develop resilience, work sustainably and thrive.

Let's summarize

We start at individual level where we always need to try to increase our individual efficiency (also called growth) and when we are part of a team - be aware that as individuals we influence our team's efficiency - ability to do its work well. By being efficient individually and then collaboratively we create some output - we are productive. Depending on the context, this might be all we need, but very often our productivity's effect remains unvalidated - we are not aware about our effect as a team. Therefore frequent validation of our productive efforts is the most cost-efficient way to help us survive and reach sustainable growth.


team effectiveness models

Did you know that there exist at least 10+ team effectiveness models? These models are in a way similar, but each with their own perspective on how to understand what happens in teams to make those more effective. One list of those is here. I am not going to cover the models here. What I want to share with you that I have studied those, practiced them over years with different teams in different contexts and developed my own approach how to improve team effectiveness.


I have managed to merge some of the models with agnostic terms like efficiency, productivity and effectiveness and many other theories and concepts, including Agile, Lean, Scrum, Kanban, systemic and holistic view into the super assessment.

It is a survey that allows us to understand very precisely where our team is and what is happening in there so that we can create the most positive effect on it by spending the least amount of effort, thus be very cost-efficient in improving its effectiveness. If you are interested, contact me.

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