September 10, 2019

Great Teams Make Great People

  —Being part of a great team amplifies what people accomplish.

This article’s title is taken from an article by Jessica Kerr entitled The Origins of Opera and the Future of Programming. Jessica’s article is well worth the read.

I like Jessica’s article for the juxtaposition of team, people, agility and the notion that we learn together. She calls out the notion that team includes community, and that community might extend beyond the people you work with on a daily basis. Your community might be made of a diverse group of people who share a common interest in solving a problem.

A community shares

  • process and values,
  • priority problems and
  • a shorthand for communication.

Communities place an emphasis on building mental models as a form of communication. Or more so, creating an environment wherein sharing mental models is rewarded. Recognizing generativity over personal productivity leads to symmathesy. (Symmathesy involves the notion that together we learn.)

What intrigued me most about the perspective brought in this article was that it shed light on a problem of my own. I’ve been working with my team for several months. I’ve begun looking deeply into my team’s values as a means to improve communication and create a shared understanding.

It’s striking that my search for values has largely produced a void. It’s not that I can’t identify values in other parts of my organization. I’ve been unable to find a values that resonate with me and my perceptions of what the team values.

The notion of symmathesy might be part of the solution.

When I first joined the team, the major challenge they presented was one of learning. Groups of people felt that they weren’t part of a culture of learning. Others didn’t seem to notice.

The underlying problem was the power hierarchy between groups. The people complaining about lack of learning were newer than those that weren’t. This implied there was lots of tribal knowledge but no emphasis on sharing.

We had a poor understanding of our process. This wasn’t new to me but the process appeared “weaponized” in ways that I hadn’t encountered before.

A weaponized process is one where the process is used to shield people from responsibility, or to stiffle others or somehow introduce inequity between teams. I’d been in environments where the process felt weaponized but the challenge here was outside of my experience. The team was focused on following the process without apparent recognition they could do much more to move the business forward.

Another issue was one of shared understanding of the code base. This overlaps with the learning issue identified above, but seemed to go deeper and touch on empowerment. Empowerment in the sense that people didn’t feel like they could own what they didn’t understand.

Changing the values of the team so that generativity is emphasized looks like a good direction. The notion of symmathesy certainly resonates with me and is something I need to think deeply about.

What I see in Jessica’s article is an opportunity to emphasize share learning for the team through the creation of a process that includes specific values. She has, in effect provided new tools for me to use to frame my own challenges with. These tools look powerful.

comments powered by Disqus