3 Keys to Building High-performing DevOps Teams – Part 3

3 Keys to Building High-performing DevOps Teams – Part 3

Originally Published in DevOps Digest

In the last installment of a 3 part series about keys to building high-performing DevOps teams, learn about what drives members of your team. Part 1 explored how to organize your teams around customer value and Part 2 dissected what it takes to collaborate and align your team.


The third and final key takes this down to the individual level. The motivation for knowledge work must come from our hearts.

There are two categories of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivations are basically either negative (fear) or positive (external rewards like money, fame, praise, etc.). These are important of course, but especially in the area of knowledge work (which is what almost all of our jobs are today) they are not as powerful motivators as intrinsic motivation.

What is intrinsic motivation? It’s when the impetus for action comes from inside our own heart. As described in the book Drive by Daniel Pink(link is external) there are three main things that cause people to thrive: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy means having the freedom to think, learn, and work on our own, without being tightly controlled and micromanaged. Mastery means taking delight in continuously improving our products and processes. In the software development context that means striving to improve both what we’re creating (code and customizations) and how we’re delivering (our development process, where DevOps helps). Finally, purpose means that we feel we’re engaging in meaningful work.

As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap between what Google found enables highly successful teams, and what we know about individual motivation. That makes sense, since teams depend on highly motivated individuals. But I still find it helpful to distinguish the two levels, while recognizing there’s interplay between them both.

So how in the context of developing a DevOps team can we promote this drive? One way to stimulate the drive for mastery is to promote a passion for learning. Some of the most inspiring people I know model the example of constantly learning, whether through reading, training, experimenting or asking questions. Developing a habit of lifelong learning is definitely a path to that sense of building mastery.

Another aspect of mastery comes from tracking and focusing on metrics. Metrics may seem like something tied to extrinsic motivators: something used to incite fear or praise. But they’re not so effective when used in that way. They are most effective when used as tools to promote continual improvement, learning and experimentation. You can use metrics as feedback to tell you if you’re improving or getting worse. When you use this to stimulate our inner drive for mastery, it’s motivating in a way that fear and external rewards could never be. There simply is no formula for how to master the development process at your own company; there are good ideas and examples, but there will necessarily be some experimentation. And you need an objective way of determining whether you’re going in the right direction or not.

That’s where metrics come in. When we exercise, we might measure how many steps we get in a day, how many miles or reps, or what’s our speed for a particular activity. So metrics in our development process facilitate continuous improvement. They actually enable learning and experimentation. They give us some objective basis to get feedback on how we are trending. Am I trending up or down?

You can challenge your team with metrics as well. The Copado State of Salesforce DevOps Report identified four different levels of performance for Salesforce teams. If you’re in the lower categories today, that’s a challenge that your team can take on. You can set a goal to incrementally improve over the course of weeks, months, or years. If now we are in the low category maybe next year we can move into the high category. If you’re already in the elite category can we challenge ourselves as a team to improve further and move away from the pack?

The final thing that I find most motivating is just recognizing that you are building your company and that as an individual, your work has impact. Your work has meaning and purpose that is far greater than you realize. Your work may not be directly saving lives, but still we have an impact. Through our jobs we’re doing something in service of some people or groups. Development teams build your apps, your apps support your employees, your employees support your customers. So your work has an exponential impact on your business.

In short, there are three keys to building high-performing teams. Start by thinking at the organizational level in terms of how you structure your teams around value delivery based on Conway’s law and Domino’s law. Then think at the team level, how can you best get alignment and collaboration? Building on a common platform is one of the best ways to do that. And finally at an individual level, how can you touch each individual person in your team, giving them autonomy in their work while challenging them to build mastery and find a sense of purpose understanding the impact they’re having on your company and your customers.