I had a brief chat with Tom Cagley of the famous SPaMcast the other night about teams. We periodically take time to talk about product development topics, and I frequently appear on SPaMCast podcasts. Last night we talked about teams an whatever magic makes a collection of individuals move to the point of performing better than the sum of he constituent parts.
I have worked professionally for nearly 30 years, and a decade before that as a field worker, fast food worker, and what we self-referred to as a yard dog – the guy who moves trailers, puts hitches on vehicles, cleans up vehicles and much more. In my 30 years professionally, I can recall being on 3 groups that were what could be referred to as a team. In fact, the story of one of those teams can be found in the book by Peter Taylor in The Project Manager Who Smiled book.
If there were a perfect recipe for creating a team, that is follow these simple instructions and yeah verily there shall be a team, there would a rush to purchase or secure that tome in our possession. It benefits all when we figure out how to develop or create an environment that facilitates this building of individuals into the result being greater than the sum of the parts.
I started thinking about generalizations from those team experiences. I came up with this quick list of the things that I think matter.
- Behave as you speak
- The rules apply equally no matter what position you hold in the team, your rhetoric must match your actions.
- If you are the team lead, know when to use what management style (autocratic, democratic, and Laissez-Faire)
- Fun integrated with the work
- Work is important, but it is also important for the team to blow of steam at times.
- Practical jokes are not a bad thing.
- Distributed responsibility – but not entirely solo work.
- Collaborations were born out of challenges in the work, even though specific people were assigned specific portions and deliverable
- Some compelling objective
- We need something to focus the effort, it can be competition from outside the organization, or, as in the case of one of my experiences, a dramatic increase in the responsibilities of one part of the organization (see The Project Manager Who Smiled contribution).
- Close communication
- The team members feel okay to say what they need to, including recognizing when uncomfortable things happen and don’t couch the words in “opportunity” as in opportunity to work uncompensated overtime, or work through the holiday.
This is not to say if you follow these rules you will end up with a true team. Teams are emergent events. There is no doubt we can take actions to ensure we never see a team develop from our collection of individuals. The best we can do is create an environment in which it is at least possible that we will end up with the sum being greater than the individual talents.