Earlier today Amy Stephen and I had an interesting discussion on development teams, I thought it worth organizing and preserving. Because it’s a bit of a threaded conversation it takes a little work to follow the flow, but there’s no easy way to sort it out.

One of the most interesting things here is that even though I tend to take a bit of a hard-ass “no prisoners” approach to the problem, and Amy is fairly close to my polar opposite, we actually look at the fundamental problem in nearly the same way.

AmyStephenWondering about the market potential of the promise of a 1 day workshop that can turn a dysfunctional group into a high performance team. It’s puzzling to watch a dysfunctional group where members keep barriers to entry high and engage in intense, private battles within.
FxNxRlLets see… the seminar starts with a real-time attitude and teamwork survey, then lists who should be retained and who fired.
AmyStephenThat might do it – if management would so empower. Typically, you’ll find spineless leadership behind dysfunction.
FxNxRlIndeed. I have done consulting assignments where I had to tell the person who hired me that they were the main problem. Awkward.
AmyStephenSo, how would you sort out the understandably frustrated’s from those who might be, shall we say, squelching innovation?
FxNxRlMost of the time it’s pretty easy to tell one from the other by simply talking to them face to face.
AmyStephenI used to think that I could tell quickly but now I am doubting my early instincts. It’s a bit unsettling, in fact. I can’t tell.
FxNxRlWhat’s difficult is to unmask the passive-aggressive ones. Usually high-value team members who kill things by “contributing”.
FxNxRlIt is impossible to tell when there’s distance involved, and it can be difficult in person too.
FxNxRlI once managed a team where I had to use source code control metrics to track project progress. Every time a project was really doing well, the lead developer would step in to “help” and the project would nearly stop. There was no way to fire him…
AmyStephenYes, it’s tricky when the one causing the problem has a great deal of authority. You have to control the process to figure it out.
AmyStephenSource code control can be a great tool for lots of challenges simply because people who are traumatized can see justice/hope
AmyStephenThat is, provided they can commit to it, of course. Otherwise, it’s just another situation where they have to face this barrier.
FxNxRlYup, and it’s hard data in an environment where everyone has some emotional involvement no matter how hard they try not to.
FxNxRlDevelopment without revision control is art, not engineering.
FxNxRlThe very first thing is to put proven development methodologies in place. If there’s strong resistance, fire the dissidents.
AmyStephenlol – I definitely do not agree, but I understand. Many times, your skeptics are simply people who think for themselves.
AmyStephenIn fact, you can bag anyone who’s onboard with change too quickly. Everyone should resist process changes if they are moving forward.
FxNxRlI realized, at about age 45, that I had become the “asshole manager” I loathed at 25. Team results trump individual brilliance.
AmyStephenIn general, I think it’s a bad idea for mgmt to plunk a set of “productivity tools” on an engineer’s desk. Best to let them pick.
FxNxRlWell yeah, you can’t say “effective Monday everyone is using SVN and methodology X”. The *method* of change is critical.
AmyStephenI’m a HUGE believer in team. I think, though, the strongest teams are built from a complementary collection of individual brilliance.
FxNxRlBut the guys who say “never did it that way, ain’t gonna start now” and then dig in? Well they can do it “their way” elsewhere.
FxNxRlSo am I… and I have seen effective teams operate in mayhem. It’s all about getting complimentary characters.
AmyStephenThat’s why it’s important to involve them. Good engineers know what productivity aids are needed and welcome it. They resist “silly”
FxNxRlI have seen highly effective teams with vastly different cultures. You could NEVER take a person from one of those teams and put them in the other. It’s all about getting people who work well together.
AmyStephenAbsolutely! I’ve worked on a team like that 2 times in my life. When you have tasted it, you know what it is & why it’s worth having
FxNxRlI’ve also become friends with people who I’ve let go as a “parachute in manager/jerk”. They found teams where they fit & r happy
AmyStephenYes – there’s a chemistry that cannot be ignored. In MBTI, it’s the middle 2 indicators that can sometimes predict compatibility
AmyStephenYes. That’s best. A self-directed work team w clear boundaries and focus and empowerment. It’s how “grown-ups” should be treated.
FxNxRlDated though it may be I’m a huge MBO fan. Here’s what we need to do, tell me what you need to do it, then get it done.
FxNxRlas long as it’s legal and ethical I don’t care how it gets done, just that I can measure progress and that there is progress.
AmyStephenI don’t think common sense is ever dated. Keeping a focus on “what this is really about” is always good.