Why You Need to Build a Centre of Excellence

4 minutes

Over the coming weeks I plan to write a series of posts about building a centre of excellence.  I intend to cover some reasons why it is important, how you can set up your own, and discuss some of the things it could help improve in your business.

For example, a recognised centre of excellence might help with:

  • Hiring the best staff
  • Retaining staff (always cheaper than hiring more)
  • Becoming more innovative as a company
  • Which mechanisms and tools you can use to turn individuals into teams
  • Training Staff – why a learning culture is more effective than training budgets
  • Some ideas for benchmarks, and how you might know what ‘done’ looks like for a centre of excellence

Before I get started on all of that lovely stuff however, I wanted to write this brief post about what I mean by a ‘Centre of Excellence’.

Start with the end in mind

I will write in more detail about what ‘done’ might look like for a centre of excellence.  Generally speaking though, you can’t even start out on this journey with out some vague idea of where you are going.

A centre of excellence is not something that you can do alone.  It’s a team sport.

In essence you are aiming to build the most amazing team possible.  You want your team populated with people who represent the best thinking and practices for their specialist area.

For the purposes of this series of posts, I will largely be talking about a centre of excellence for Scrum Masters as my example.

You are aiming to build a team.

It can be big or small, with a narrow remit (the Scrum Masters) or a broad one (the entire company), it doesn’t matter. I suggest you start small, expanding gradually outwards, layering excellence throughout your organisation.  This allows you to iterate and improve as you go.

You probably want to start with a team you already have, and help them to grow into the team you believe they can be.  They can’t do this without your help however – if they could, they would have done it already.

The culture of this team is the secret to your centre of excellence, but more on that in a little while.

This is not about you or your ability

You do not need to be a specialist in the area you want to build this team.  The more skills in that area you have, the further you can go with them, but its certainly not essential.  No matter how good you are, you will need to step back eventually, (no matter how much fun you are having!).  This is part of their growth, to ultimately become self-organising and self-sustaining.

You are the architect, not the craftsman in this scenario.

If you do this right, everyone you interview will want to work for your company, because they want to be part of that team.  This means you will be able to choose from the very best people to hire.  As a bonus, each new hire will further strengthen your team.

What does ‘excellence’ look like?

Quite some time ago I wrote this post Excellent…compared to what? .  It talks about how, if you don’t find a good target to aim at, you can easily set the bar too low.  What is worse, is that you might never know that you are under-achieving.  Look around at who is working, writing or speaking about topics in your team’s area.  For whom do they work?  Seek out more content from them and their employees.

When you read a great blog, see a great you-tube video or TED talk, make sure you share it with your team during work hours.  You are the leader and you need to set the tone and culture by your actions.

Each member of your team will need to learn and grow as an individual.  They will also need to teach the others in the team, forming a perpetual loop of learning and sharing.  Every member of the needs to contribute as both teacher and learner.  It will take some practice for them to instil this into a habit.  But by borrowing the expertise of others, it can compress learning from perhaps a decade to become an ‘expert’ into just a few short years.

Your primary job will be to create an environment in which your chosen team can learn, experiment and importantly, make mistakes.  You need to protect & maintain that environment until this way of working has become a habit for them.  This is the basis of a ‘learning culture’ and is crucial to your eventual success building a centre of excellence.

That all sounds great, Helen, but I have no budget for training, nor hiring the most expensive people.

Fair enough.  I’ll cover this in more detail in a separate post too.

In essence though, all finance is finite.  There is never enough money, and choices always have to be made.

Smart choices, and choices that have a net positive result are sometimes called investments.  I will outline how to maximise return on your – actually quite moderate – investment too.

There is an open secret about people who work in tech that is very useful here though.  Beyond the necessities they need to live, lots of tech people don’t rate the financial rewards of a job particularly highly.  The things they do rate highly are things you have more control over and can change.

Some of the things that are often quoted as desirable include:

  • working with clever people
  • autonomy to do the right thing
  • encourage personal development & learning
  • flexibility of working hours

(Here is just one article that talks about this sort of thing).

I plan to gather these posts together into a .pdf  or mini e-book which I will send to newsletter subscribers.

If you are interested in building a centre of excellence and are interested in getting the whole set of posts in this way, drop me your email so I know where to send it.  (If you already subscribe to the newsletter, this form is not for you -you’ll get it first 🙂   Helen)

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