Monthly Archives: November 2005

Teams vs Teamwork

Been a member of a team recently? Ever? Are you sure? Do you know what a team is? Do you know the difference between an team and a group exercising teamwork skills? Have you ever wondered if the “team” you were in was really a team?

My purpose in this article is not to tell you how to form a team – but to help you recognize when you have a team and when you don’t. Too often managers think that they’ve got a team – when they don’t. They have not provided the necessary fuel for the team fire and in reality have a group of individuals executing teamwork skills.

These managers are disappointed in the performance of the “team” – and don’t understand why the “team” isn’t performing at a high performance rate. They may blame the members. They may blame themselves. They may blame their bosses.

Many people confuse the occurence of teamwork with actually having a team. Teamwork skills are readilly learned and easily identified by workers and managers. Some major teamwork skills include listening, questioning, persuading, respecting, helping, sharing and participating. These are all great skills to use in daily work to get things accomplished with other people.

A group of people exercising these skills are not necessarily a team. In fact, it is most likely just a group of people exercising teamwork skills individually.

What differentiates such a group from an actual team? This begs the question – what is a team? My favorite definition of a team is from Jeffery Katzenbach: “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

Without purpose, goals and approach – you have a group of people. Getting people to commit to purpose, goals and approach are the elements that forge a team. Teams don’t last forever – they last as long as they are needed. Once purpose, goals and approach are no longer binding a team together – it dissolves into a group.

The reality is – maybe there is no need for a team.

Not all projects require a team. Some projects require a group of people to commit to individual goals – and reasonable results will occur.

Trying to get team behaviour out of a group that does not need to be a team will only frustrate the members and waste the leader’s time.

You do not have a team when:
1) Members say “Yes” all the time
2) No one raises objections to taking shortcuts on quality
3) Members are not concerned about schedule
4) Members follow managerial direction without improvements or questions – to avoid risk of responsibility for those changes – playing it safe
5) Managers/leaders focus on superficial aspects of teamwork (e.g. getting along, working overtime, being positive, working hard) instead of the core aspects (purpose, goals, approach)
6) Members don’t talk with one another about progress
7) Leader does not talk informally with members on a regular and frequent basis

What does “Done” mean?

Project manager walks up to you and asks “Is that task done?”. How do you answer?

My experience is that most people assume that they know what done means to the asker – and answer the question based on that assumption.

But – often, what “done” means needs to be discussed and possibly negotiated.

The Big Three

Among the soft skills I believe developers can benefit from improving are Leadership – Play – Improvisation

Leadership is all about change. IT is all about change. Solution developers are therefore agents of change. Nobody every says “Hey – let’s build a new system that does exactly what we do now!” New systems have new features, new workflows, new objects – new, new, new, new, new. Having a basic understanding of how change happens in an organization – and how to help facliltate it will serve developers well. If nothing else, it can help to moderate the frustration born from over-optimistic hopes for change to evolve. It’s hard – it requires everyone to put their shoulder to the wheel. Nothing helps change happen than a good and hopeful attitude.

Hopefully you enjoy developing software systems. If so, then take the opportunity to go play with something that is fun and excites you. One of the biggest complaints people have about their jobs is that they get bored with their work. To have a successful and satisfying career, play! Take and hour and play with Ruby or Python or Excel or Javascript.

Improvisation to me is using leadership and creativity on the fly to solve problems, create new understandings, facilitate conversations and to form and maintain relationships. Organizations don’t work – but they’re the best we have right now. What makes organizations work and be effective are the people inside the organizations who try every day to fill in the gaps and smooth over the bumps to get something done. Organizations are tools for people to accomplish results.

Questions are the Answer

A favorite quote if mine is “Questions can shape our lives.”  I also believe the following:

  • Questions lead to answers.
  • Answers lead to actions.
  • Action leads to change.

What questions do you ask yourself? Are you asking “Why isn’t my life more exciting?” or – are you asking “How can I make my life more exciting?” Even better “What exciting new thing can I do today?” The more your questions are specific and achievable – the more likely the ansewr is to to lead to change in your life.

What questions do you ask others? “When are you going to get that report done?” or “Did you do the laundry yet?” Are other’s questions implicitly giving you direction. Direction that you may or may not deserve or want. Can you get others to reshape their questions? “Do you have time to finish that report this week?” “I’m out of white shirts – are you doing laundry today – or should I put in a load myself?”

How about “Will heaven be interesting?” “What does done mean?”

Hello world!

Welcome to Jmoore65. This blog site will reflect the my manic attempt to rationalize my experience in software development. I’ve been working in software and IT systems development for over 15 years. I’ve worked with office automation systems, multimedia systems, entertainment products, training and educational systems, and web based business and ecommerce systems.

I’ve come to believe that we are seeing a convergence of customer demand for IT services. What used to be separate user bases is now merging into one large customer base. Users have higher expectations of systems today – especially in terms of branding and customization.

We IT developers have a mixed track record for delivering usable, reliable and extensible systems. We’ve tended to believe that we know best. Technology has to be user centered – because at the end of the day – it’s users that translate the potential value of technology into actual value. We as an industry need to become more customer focused – our legions of technical staff need to understand customer needs, wants and psychology. Because it’s humans that fill in the gaps of dysfunctional organizations and make the produce the value that their customers want.

So – thanks for wandering in – hey, this is IT – ya’ never know what’s going to happen next.