Parallel processing: finding the right people

In computers, parallel processing is the processing of program instructions by dividing them among multiple processors with the objective of running a program in less time.

TechTarget

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Vision of the future

Computer processors haven’t actually got much faster since the early 2000s. The speed of an average computer’s CPU has hovered around 3 billion cycles per second (think about that for a minute) since the Pentium 4 in 2002.

Computers as a whole, though, have got a lot faster. This is in large part because of parallel processing – more processing units doing different jobs in parallel.

CPUs often have six cores where they used to have one. High-end graphics cards – processing high resolution graphics is about the most intensive work most computers do – can have thousands. And you’ll need them to run a 4K computer display (8 million-plus pixels) at 100 frames-per-second: each pixel requires a complicated set of calculations to determine its colour.**

Get with the program

We often call the things our organisations do ‘programs’ too. One way of looking at your team is a system running a set of instructions that together make up your ‘program’. You take your inputs, the system runs, and the combination of all the operations (a successfully operated ‘program’) creates a desired result.

There’s lots that you can do to improve a system like this – simplify or improve the quality of the inputs, write a more efficient set of instructions or script for each operation (having a script at all is a good start), identify and cut out unnecessary steps – and all of these things will make you more productive, and your life easier.

Once you’ve got good scripts, you can hand off parts of the operation to other people, and give yourself more time to focus on the intensive processing – and this will help a lot too, if you do it right.

But you’re a bottleneck. Everything. Still. Comes. Through. You.

The people you really need to find are people with the ability and the will to shoulder an entire area of activity – a whole process – entirely independently.

You decide what needs to happen and leave them with it. Pow. Now you can do something else – something entirely different – at the same time.

You’re parallel processing.

** = with apologies if I’ve completely murdered the technical analogy. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The trampoline: networks, standards and freedom

The network effect is powerful, and a source of tremendous value, and we need to understand how it works.

Networks depend on standardisation – a consistent, accepted standard for how computers talk to each other, or how all Lego bricks fit together, or how a community works – a shared language and set of expectations that make it easier to collaborate.

We need these norms – they allow us to communicate, to work together better and faster, to make assumptions, even to ignore each other in relative safety. Norms, the middle ground, are the gravity that holds us together, the board from which we spring.

And there’s the tension. Norms that are too numerous or too binding tie us down. Our instinct is to break free, but it’s a dance: without norms and standards (social-cultural, technological), we fall apart. There’s nothing to stand on, push off, be in tension with, break free from

Without springs and gravity there are no trampolines, and no difference between flying and falling.

“How do I take these thoroughbreds and turn them into a team?”

Getting a team together? Start building it before you’re even in the room.

Kathy Delaney-Smith is the coach of the Harvard woman’s basketball team… A few years ago she was asked to be the coach of Team USA in the international basketball competition. And what she was going to have was a dozen kids who’d been selected from a hundred who tried out, the very best female basketball players in the United States. And the problem was that they were going to be competing for five starting positions and moreover came from schools that were highly competitive.

So she had this question: “How do I take these thoroughbreds and turn them into a team?” And she was only going to have four days of practice before they went to Turkey to actually do the competition.
And what she did was … she started building the team over a month before people came to Colorado Springs to the training center for their first practice.

She formed diads or triads … of women ahead of time by email and gave them little assignments to do, things like, since the tournament was going to be in Turkey, “What are the best museums in Turkey?” or “How would you teach the Turkish alphabet to someone who didn’t know it?”, and they had to do these things by email before they showed up and then make their presentation of their report when they arrived at Colorado Springs.

And it was amazing, she said, when they arrived they made their presentation to the rest of the team and the team USA staff, and it was all very funny, and they had started to bond as a team even before they started practice, which she said transcended the latent competitiveness that they were arriving with. So there’s all kind of creative things that you can do to try to help this set of people who are really individuals come together and experience themselves as a team.

Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast

Team performance (3): Learning and individual growth

Richard Hackman‘s third lens on teams and team performance looks at what happens to the individuals on the team.

Individual Growth

What happens to the individuals? Did they learn something? Did they grow and develop professionally, or was this a waste of their time or something that frustrated and alienated them?

Richard Hackman

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Team growth and individual growth are interrelated, but distinct. Team growth is (primarily) related to the team’s ability to work well together as a team, and whether their ability to get the job done is improving, and the improvement is sustainable.

Individual growth is about personal learning and development:

  • Are the members of my team developing their own vision?
  • Are they and exercising and deepening – or possibly redefining – their values?
  • Are they gaining new tools – ideas, skills, understandings – that will serve them and others well, beyond the team?
  • Are they developing significant relationships and resources that will help enrich their lives and the lives of those around them?

How is what you’re doing now going to make their lives better in future? How is the work of your team an act of generosity the teams of the future?

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I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.

Team performance (2): Team Growth

Richard Hackman‘s second lens on teams and team performance is about the team getting better at what it does over time.

If you’re leading a team, your evaluation of the team’s performance can’t be based solely on whether you delivered the goods last time. You’ve got a bigger picture to think about, including whether your team is getting better over time.

Team Growth

Team growth is key too: “What happens to the team itself over time? Does it grow in capability? Is it a better performing unit after its completed this project than it was before?

Richard Hackman

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As your team delivers the goods this time, is it getting stronger and better able to deliver the goods next

  • Is the team clear about a shared vision what it’s trying to achieve and where it’s going?
  • Are your values being strengthened through this project or are they compromised and in danger of withering?
  • Are you developing shared standards and practices that will make doing the same jobs easier tomorrow?
  • Are team members getting better at their individual roles?
  • Are you getting better at communicating, cooperating, helping each other out, having fun while you work?
  • Is the wrapper of essential resources and partnerships around the team being strengthened? (think ecosystem, not machine)

I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.

Team Performance (1)

I’ve just been listening to Richard Hackman on teams and team performance. His first lens for evaluating team performance is straight forward:

Delivering the goods

Did you get the job done? How well did you do it?

Who is the legitimate receiver, user, reviewer of this performance and what to they think of it? Did you serve the client first?

At a non-profit leader you might have several ‘customers’: the people you serve, donors, the team itself. If you can’t keep everyone happy, where do your priorities lie?

I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.