5 Books that changed the way I think

Over the years I have been lucky enough to find books that have profoundly changed the way I perceive the world and the way I think. I usually know when I have found one of these books when I read the book over and over. This is a list of those top 5 books in chronological order of when I read them. I’ve also included how I became aware of the book.

  1. Lord of the Rings – John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Like most young adults I was a bit of a grazer when it came to reading. I was reading enough at school that I really wasn’t looking for books to lose myself in outside of school. And then I found Lord of the Rings. Funny enough, I actually stopped reading the first time in the Council of Elrond chapter. The book didn’t really grab me up to that point. The second time I read the book I made it past that chapter and I was hooked. I think I have read the book at least 6 times now. The book really taught me how important stories and the stories behind the stories are. In many ways Lord of the Rings taught me how to also be thoughtful. Great Book.

I became aware of Lord of the Rings just from other students in my classes. Funny enough, my brother was not a Lord of the Rings fan. I remember he was a fan of the Dune series. I think this was a generational thing,

2. Godel, Escher, Bach – Douglas Hofstadter

I still remember spending weekends cycling to the park and reading this 700 page tome on formal systems. This is perhaps where I really fell in love with Computer Science. This was probably the height of being a geek as well. For the love of me, I can’t remember how I became aware of this book.

This book really did teach me how to analyze and create formal systems and in many ways how to code. It also caused me to think at a higher level about intelligence and consciousness. Great book to think about big thoughts.

3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig

One of the books I first spotted in my brother’s library. I picked it up and was hooked immediately. Zen taught me the beauty of introspection and thought. It also taught me to be respectful of people who may have psychological issues. This book explained the emotion and heartache of mental issues as I read. I found the entire book and story fascinating. To this day it probably is my favourite book and the first one I reach out to when I have spare time. Robert Pirsig’s second book Lila is equally good.

Under the covers the book also spoke to me a lot on Quality and what quality is. This has been very helpful in my work life.

4. Iron John – Robert Bly

The second book I spotted in my brother’s library. The perfect book for a man in his 30’s to read to find guidance on the changes a man will experience growing up. A great book that balanced embracing what it means to be a man in the face of much bashing of masculinity in the 90’s. This book gave me great confidence. Perhaps a little too much.

5. Epistulae morales ad Lucilium – Seneca the Younger

I think I found this book when I kept on seeing Seneca being quoted in other books. This is a philosophy book composed of letters from Seneca. I loved how the letters were grounded in reality and in actual stories. This combined with the Stoic philosophy really spoke to me and resonated with my beliefs. I found more confidence in aligning myself with the Stoic principles as I went through some challenges at work in and my personal life.

Best Work Book

The best work books I have read comes down to a choice between two:

  1. Beautiful Teams

Beautiful Teams is a wonderful book with each chapter describing a situation and how a team was structured to help address the situation. Great book with a lot of real world examples of what great teams can do.

2. Leading Geeks

Awesome book providing insight on how leading Software Development professionals is different from leading anyone else. A must read for any Software Development professional. Even if you are not leading other geeks, chances are your manager will have read this book!

Creativity, Inc. and #1 reason why projects struggle

I just recently finished reading Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull. It is undoubtedly one of the best books I have ever read. The book provides a history of how Pixar came about and how Pixar has managed to maintain their culture of creativity and innovation. There are many poignant lessons that I took away from the book, but perhaps the one that resounded the most was the use of what they termed the ‘braintrust’ team.

BTW, I hate the term Braintrust – I would rather just use a term without any implied hierarchy.


The concept behind the Braintrust team is that it is a team made up of their most senior writers and creative minds that can help to review the status of the movies on a regular basis. The objective behind these meetings are that these senior team members have a wealth of experience they can pass on to the team currently working on the movie on how the movie might be missing the mark.

There are a couple of simple rules:

  1. The feedback is not personal and it given in the spirit of making the movie the best in can possibly be.
  2. The feedback does not include the solution to the perceived issues and the Braintrust team has no authority to get the team to implement a certain solution.

The goal of the Braintrust is to highlight opportunities and then let the movie team determine the best solution. Questions may be raised in the next Braintrust review if nothing has been done since the last meeting, but there is no direction that they give the team on how problems should be solved.


Why do I like this model? On many projects I have been on we have tried to have some level of review and governance to help the project teams. But like many other people I know we have always struggled to get to the real issues that the project is encountering. Our checkpoints just didn’t highlight the areas of concern. So what was Pixar doing that we weren’t?

One thing I thought initially was that Pixar had their Braintrust be a team of 4-5 people. This is ideal as it brings a wealth of experience and also balances the project team and Braintrust out in terms of numbers. I think when an entire project team reviews their project with one person, the difference in numbers could allow for a pro-project point of view. This is not done intentionally, but could lead to the dismissal of ideas just due to the difference in numbers.


The project culture at Pixar is profoundly grounded in their culture. It can be summed up simply as:

“Projects are expected to struggle, a project running smoothly is not a goal”

Let’s think about that for a second. Management’s job is not to limit risk but to build the ability to recover. Management is doing their job when their teams are able to solve problems. I haven’t found this perspective in many software shops. In Software Development companies the goal is to have a smoothly running project.

This is quite different that the traditional approach where we have project checkpoints and see our role as management to try to solve the problems the team have and get the project to run smoothly again.

This approach frees the team up to be creative and try new approaches knowing management doesn’t view problems as some fault of the team. Pixar understands that the project team must become the ‘project’ they are working on to be able to achieve the objectives of the project. The downside of this is that the project team then loses some of their objectivity to be able to achieve the objectives of the project. The Braintrust can then assist in that regard to provide an unbiased view to help the project achieve all of the project’s objectives.


I think the Braintrust model has a lot of promise. I hope to try something similar in the future. If you haven’t yet read Creativity, Inc, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Oh yeah and what is the #1 reason project struggle? They struggle because they are supposed to. Having a project without struggles means the project probably didn’t do much that was new or different or complex. Have a lot of those projects and your company isn’t moving forward any more.

How #Empathy is fixing #Canada

I’ve talked about how Empathy is so important in understanding client needs in the past, how Empathy is important to understand what a client really requires and needs. The other side of Empathy is understanding what your team requires.

Ultimately, Empathy results in Prosocial behaviour. Prosocial is a term I only recently came across. Let’s quickly review the definition from Wikipedia:

Prosocial behavior –  “is a social behaviour that “benefit[s] other people or society as a whole, such as helping, sharing, donating, co-operating, and volunteering. Obeying the rules and conforming to socially accepted behaviors (such as stopping at a “Stop” sign or paying for groceries) are also regarded as prosocial behaviors. These actions may be motivated by empathy and by concern about the welfare and rights of others”

Ultimately this describes team behaviour and client service focus that we like to see in our project teams.


My country has always prided itself with having a good global conscience. But really until the last little while we have not shown ourselves to be empathetic at home. Let me call attention to a couple of recent news items. The tragedies of missing and murdered aboriginal women is the first item. For the longest time, the media and the majority of Canada have spent a lot of our efforts trying to state why this is someone else’s problem. We haven’t really empathized with the problem. We have hidden behind the fact that the situation was created by our ancestors and not us. In short, we felt comfortable doing nothing unless we were directly responsible. Myself included. 😦

Let’s review the definition of Empathy again:

Empathy – “is the capacity to understand or feel what another being (a human or non-human animal) is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”

We haven’t truly put ourselves in the shoes of the aboriginal families and really felt their pain. Recently we are starting. Canada has become outraged that this is happening and everyone has demanded as a whole that this be fixed now. Finally we have exhibited Prosocial behaviour and demanded that this is fixed even when it will result in no personal gain. In some way we are demanding change that will even hurt us by taking money and attention away from other priorities. But we understand that it is the right thing to do. Maybe we are finally gaining some true Empathy.

A similar occurrence has happened recently with the Freedom Road that is finally being built to address a long-standing injustice committed against Shoal Lake #40 First Nations who were isolated by the city of Winnipeg building an aqueduct in 1915. How it took 100 years for our community to become Empathetic and outraged at this situation is unbelievable. But at least now it is being addressed. Finally we have become empathetic and are being Prosocial with our demands from our politicians.

We can even see this recently with our neighbours from the south. For the longest time the United States were content to also determine excuses as to why the number of murdered black men were not a problem. Everyone investigated the victim’s past history, looked in their behaviour that night, and also said much of the violence was black man on black man so certainly there is no racism issue. Finally the United States is demonstrating Prosocial behaviour and also demanding that something be done to address these issues.

The truth is until large groups are willing to be Prosocial and take a stand on issues, they will never be addressed.

In retrospect, the majority of Canada was not empathetic to the massacre at École Polytechnique. 28 people were injured, with 14 Canadian women losing their lives that day. We grieved and mourned, but we didn’t truly empathize and demand action. The best we could muster in the past was Sympathy. We certainly have been sympathetic in the past but finally it seems Canada is learning how to be empathetic.

I see an interesting similarity with the Muslim people and countries around the world in relation to terrorism. Although people are sympathetic with the impact of terrorism, we haven’t yet reached an Empathy with the victims and seen Prosocial behaviours. Once we see those Prosocial behaviours, I have no doubt that the situation will greatly improve. Even with the recent tragedies in Paris, there is could be more we could do.

And I don’t believe building walls like Mr Trump proposes is a Prosocial behaviour. If anything, that is an Antisocial behaviour. By Prosocial behaviour I mean that we would see people independently organizing instead of assuming that it is only the Police’s job to stop terrorism.


Pretty heady topic for Christmas Eve, but it does relate back to our teams. Our high performing teams always are the ones that manage themselves and work together for the greater good and not just for what they need to individually accomplish. We are getting there. Nice to see our world is as well. 🙂


Top two rules of Performance Reviews – How to not make them a Candy Scramble

Just like everyone else I have had many great performance reviews and a couple of stinkers. I had a bit of an epiphany during an Empathy session at Protegra that clarified why some reviews go well and some go very badly.

First things first though. I’m finding these sessions at Protegra on “Empathy” and “Giving and Receiving Feedback” extremely helpful. I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years and this is the first time anybody has understood that Empathy and the process of giving and receiving feedback is an acquired skill. In many ways it is similar to estimating.

No Performance Reviews!

Many people are proposing that we should simply do away with performance reviews. I would propose that performance reviews are like estimates, they are not inherently evil. Could they be used for nefarious purposes? Sure, but almost anything can. I think if you follow the two rules of Performance Reviews you will find the reviews become much more useful and positive. When Performance Reviews are a negative experience it is usually due to what bad managers or leaders do with the review. Yea, kinda like estimates. 🙂

The two rules

The training provided a great hierarchy on feedback which I found really helpful. There are essentially three types of feedback:

Appreciation – Informal, personal feedback on how someone is doing or has done something recently, Focus is usually just on the past.

Coaching – More formal but still personal Feedback on how someone has done something recently. There also is the added focus of coaching for the future as well as acknowledging the past.

Evaluation – The most formal of the feedback types. This is the performance review. Like coaching the focus is both on the past and the future, but there is also an additional component of ranking or evaluation to some standards of the role or competencies.

Rule #1

The types of feedback need to be provided by the same person in the order listed. I can’t expect to evaluate someone if I don’t have a relationship that has already involved providing Appreciation and Coaching Feedback. But yet, this is exactly what a lot of large corporations do! The manager is expected to gather and provide feedback sometimes with limited direct experience with the individual. This can lead to misinterpretation and incorrect emphasis being placed on some feedback received from others. In many cases, anonymous feedback is also incorporated with no personal context to allow that  information to be used appropriately. This is the Performance Review equivalent of a Candy Scramble.

Many times this is done because the focus is not on helping the individual to grow and get better, but to do annual performance reviews because that is what Human Resources says we need to do.

But if we focus on providing Appreciation and Coaching before we can do any Evaluation, it places the emphasis back where it belongs.

Rule #2

We need to make all types of the feedback a conversation. Again this is where having Appreciation and Coaching feedback sessions will help to make the meetings more conversational. In many large companies you don’t have a discussion with your manager until your performance review. You have no idea what he or she thinks, you get blindsided with feedback, and you say nothing when he or she asks for your thoughts. If you aren’t providing Appreciation and Coaching to your people, you are essentially ambushing them and not building relationships. These managers are usually the same people who remark after someone left that they are surprised and how they never said anything about being unhappy.

If we just have annual reviews without any Appreciation and Coaching discussions, they will never become conversational.


I found these types of feedback helpful and made it clear where performance reviews have been less than optimal when I had been giving and receiving feedback.

Another component of feedback is to make sure it is specific and actionable. Many times feedback ends up being vague and difficult to understand and incorporate. (Bob, we really need you to show more initiative) If we provide Appreciation and Coaching feedback we will find more specific types of feedback being provided. This is because those types of feedback almost always are grounded in specific examples that have been observed. Then the Evaluation feedback just summarizes what has already been communicated and the Evaluation feedback is less vague.

Of course providing Appreciation and Coaching feedback require time and effort, but the people we work with are worth it.

What is the #Compete Level of your #team ? #Agile

A phrase that is being used a lot north of the 49th parallel is compete level. Usually the term is used to talk about the level of effort by hockey teams. Another phrase that is also used in being ‘hard on the puck’. Basically both of these phrases try to communicate the level of effort that the team is displaying. In Winnipeg especially, losing is OK if everyone is displaying effort. Losing is OK, not trying is not.

Translation to Software Development

So then I started to think about how this translates to Software Development projects. My favourite and best project has always been those where our level of compete is very high. We have been very hard on the puck. We don’t think about whose responsibility that loose puck is, we all collapse on the puck/issue – high compete, hard on the puck.

These are terms very familiar to Agile teams. We have cross-functional teams because the teams can be more reactive to issues. Agile also stresses Client Focus as that focus will usually result in a higher compete level. If we care about the client and their requirements, chances are we will care more and go into the corners to get the puck and resolve issues.

Once you start to form defined roles it is easier to lessen your complete level. Perhaps there is the thought that my zone is back here and it is the centre’s responsibilities to get the puck in the high slot. I’ll just wait back here until the issue is resolved and someone gets the puck for me.

Relentless pressure and effort can overcome most obstacles.

What is your team’s compete level?

My new favourite #InnovationGame – #Agile Science Fair


I was asked to do a session for the Agile Winnipeg User Group and the first thing that popped into my mind was Innovation Games. Innovation Games are a critical piece in Protegra’s offering to gain Customer Insight on all projects. Recently we have used Innovation Games to assist the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce in creating their strategy. It really confirmed in my head that Innovation Games are the best way to gain Customer Insight no matter what the ultimate end product of the project is.

Agile Winnipeg Users Group

So I was very excited to be able to talk about Innovation Games and try one or two games in the session.  But it many cases, Agile teams have used Silent Brainstorming and parts of Innovation Games already even if they didn’t call  them Innovation Games. I wasn’t sure they would get the maximum value out of the event if I just did the SpeedBoat Innovation Game.

So I thought it would be the most impactful and fun to do the Product Box game. The idea was to do a Product Box on Agile. The objective was to create a Product Box that would let you communicate what Agile is and then try to sell Agile to their imaginary manager who has never used Agile. Fair enough. Seemed like fun


Ultimately though, Staples would not comply with our devious plans. This had happened once before when Luke Hohmann had presented at SDEC in 2012. Luke had graciously offered to also do a workshop the following day and one of the games we were playing was product box. But when I was looking for the plain white cereal sized boxes that we would use for our game, they were nowhere to be found. Eventually we found some mailing boxes that we could use for the game, but it wasn’t optimal.

So I was hoping that the lack of white cereal sized was only temporary at Staples. Nope. They were nowhere to be found.

They had the same inventory they had before… 😦

Science Fair

With one huge addition. They had in stock tri-fold cardboard boards like the ones used for science fairs.

This, I thought, is freaking perfect!

The Game

We started off the session with a few slides on Innovation Games and then got into the Science Fair game. I had purchased stickers, colorful sharpies, and colorful 4″ letters. (Which I thought were stickers. They were merely punch-out letters. But our ingenuous teams managed in spite of me) 🙂

I posed to them the situation.

“Your manager knows nothing about Agile, but you know it is the only way to develop software. Use all the supplies to create a poster board to communicate what Agile is and to try to convince your manager choose Agile for the next project”

I then also had purposely bought some animals stickers. I wanted them to use the stickers as Metaphors for Agile. I would ask why they choose a certain animal and what the animal represented about Agile. By doing this, I was using additional metaphors to gain insight into additional aspects of Agile they may not have communicated elsewhere.

The Results

Like all Innovation Games, we had fun and the teams produced projects that were awesome and I had greater insight into what each team thought about Agile.

But I really liked two aspects of the Science Fair game as compared to Product Box.

1) Real Estate – The teams had much more space to use to communicate. This allowed for more messaging and content then I would have had on Product Box. It particularly gave them room to draw.

2) Animal Metaphor – This was a neat twist I thought, but the insight gathered was truly great. Some teams used all the animals to show how teams had to be diverse, some teams used Giraffes to show how visibility was crucial to Agile, and then two teams used multiple reptiles to show how the Minimum Viable Product would be created and enhanced in each iteration.


It was a fantastic event and I think I’ll try Science Fair again when we need to do Product Box. The additional space allows for additional creative elements in the game. I think I’ll also keep the additional metaphor I used. That provided additional context and insight.

A new Taxi Cab company in #Madison #unioncab.coop @protegra

With all the recent discussion of the new business model that Uber has introduced, I was surprised to find another company that kinda did Uber before Uber was Uber in my recent trip to Madison, Wisconsin. 🙂 (Only Better than Uber!!!)

The Discussion

I was taking a cab from the Madison Concourse Hotel to the Pyle Center at the University of Wisconsin campus. (Go Badgers!!!) The first cab driver was very pleasant and dropped me off very promptly and quickly. I asked him if I could arrange a follow-up cab. He mentioned he couldn’t arrange for himself to be there, but handed me a card that I could call when I needed a pick up. (more on this later)

So I examined the card – Union Cab co-op. Interesting….

The drive back

On my drive back, I asked the second cab driver about the Union Cab Co-op company.

He described the history of how the Union Cab Co-op of Madison was formed. You can find all the details here:

Union Cab Co-op

There is a lot of detail in the article but it is summarized very well in the final two paragraphs:

Today Union Cab has gross annual revenues in excess of $7 million with approximately 230 active or probationary members and 65 cabs. We continue to operate under the principles of the Cooperative movement and maintain a “one-member, one-vote” worker democracy.

We intend to continue to grow, serving the transportation needs of Greater Madison, and providing good jobs at a living wage in a safe, democratic and humane environment. But Union Cab is more than just a business; it is an idea and an ideal. It is one of a very small number of worker owned and operated businesses in America. Some consider us the wave of the future, others think we will be relegated to the scrap heap of utopian idealism. Our Membership will determine which it will be.

My Thoughts

The discussion with my second cab driver/owner was the most pleasant and insightful ride I have ever had. We discussed the history of the company and how he has a voice at the table of how the company is operated. He also mentioned how he has a role to mentor new cap drivers and introduce them to the company. 🙂 Then I thought back to Uber. I don’t know for sure, but Uber seemed to be less of a co-operative and more of a private company structure. They may be structured as a co-op, but their website doesn’t give that impression. It seems to be a model where you are more of an independent contractor and are afforded freedom, but don’t share in the control of the company or the profits. They certainly don’t talk about helping and mentoring each other.

I thought back to how co-operatives can be the solution to finding a compromise between private companies that maximize stakeholder profits sometimes at the expense of employees and unions that sometimes maximize union member salaries at the expense of private companies and taxpayers.


We at Protegra are also a Co-operative. Everyone Protegran can be a shareholder if they want and can share in the profits. All Protegrans help to decide company direction and strategy. We are 100% employee owned.

I think this co-op model could have promise for many areas in the future. I do agree with Union Cab co-op, I think it is the wave of the future. The control of the company and the profits are shared by the people and not the company or union hierarchy.

Back to the Start

Knowing what I know now, I am even more impressed with the Cab driver who didn’t set up a follow up cab ride on the side. I know I have done this with other private cab companies and their bosses may not have ever seen that fare. I even know situations in Unions where members take extra shifts at the expense of other members.

But somehow this little co-op has build a team where companies and unions have failed. Interesting.


#Four Qualities of a Great Teammate #Agile #Team

I was listening to 1290 Sports Radio earlier this week on the way to work like I always do and they mentioned something interesting. San Jose Shark’s General Manager Doug Wilson was mentioning the traits outside of Hockey that they look at to try to determine whether the person would be a good team-mate. I searched for an article that would provide a complete list of their qualities, but I could not find it. Regardless, it is a great discussion to propose those qualities that are perhaps less apparent, but can have a great impact on the probability of a team’s success.

Four Qualities

1) Student of the Game – Obligation to Learn

Great team mates are driven to continue to learn. In fact, they feel they have a deep obligation to learn. Most of them find a lot of their pleasure comes from learning new things. If you got them to do the same thing over and over they would probably quit and find something new to do.

2) Internal need to Collaborate – Need to have Feedback 

Not only does the person have an obligation to learn, but they also have an internal need to seek out and accept advice from others. Many people will do this when required, but it is rarer to find people who truly enjoy getting feedback and will seek feedback out all the time.

3) Driven to Mentor and give back – Obligation to Teach

Great team mates also recognize the other side of the continuous learning coin. They recognize that they have an obligation to mentor and coach team mates just like they were coached and mentored early in their careers. Many of these people also take great enjoyment from teaching others.

4) Take problem ownership personally – Requirement to Resolve

Great team mates never think it is someone else’s problem. I can’t stress this one enough. They never think it is someone else’s problem. Now that doesn’t mean they think it is their problem alone to resolve, but they never think they have no part of play in the resolution. You never get an “I don’t know” it is always “I don’t know yet” answer. 🙂


What do all of these qualities have in common? They all require the individual to commit time and effort to items beyond themselves. In short, they are collaborating on items that benefits others as much as themselves.



Once people find out I work at Protegra, there are usually two questions that get asked. For those people who have not heard of Protegra, they ask “What does Protegra do?”. I will be writing multiple Blogs over the next few weeks on what Protegra does and how we visually and intuitively work with clients by using Innovation Games, Empathy Maps, Business Model Canvases and Value Proposition Canvases. Cool Stuff. Stay Tuned.

For those people who have heard of Protegra, they ask “What is it like to work at Protegra?”

I’ll try to address that question in this blog post.

Coming Home

I was away from Protegra over the last three years on a client project. Typically at Protegra we like all of our Protegrans (Yes, we call ourselves that) to work at our building. This is because of the sense of community and affinity that can be built and the collaboration and information sharing that is maximized when people can discuss ideas face to face. In addition, providing the opportunity for “Water Cooler” discussions can lead to the generation of the best ideas.

I should state that the client site I was at was as good as it could be. The clients were awesome and the project was a great learning experience. The client treated us like employees and the amenities were top-notch.

So I really wasn’t sure to expect coming back to Protegra after such a long time away. What would it be like? Would it be any different from the last few months? What it is like to work at Protegra?

I have now been back for 3 days and it is like being home. The amount of free-flowing ideas has made me smile and made my head spin at the same time. The meetings where everyone has an equal voice to propose ideas and discuss opinions is really quite unique. When everyone feels comfortable enough that they can propose anything and discuss anything, you have created an atmosphere like a home.

Protegra is also one of the few places I have been at where people seek out collaboration when they don’t need to. A decision could be totally within control of one person, but they will still seek out 3-4 other Protegrans and ask them what they think. And that to me is the indication that you have a special place. The focus is not on individual authority and advancement, it is about making the best decision for the client and Protegra as a whole. Why wouldn’t I seek out other opinions to make the decision the best it could possibly be?


So what is it like to work at Protegra? It is like being at home where you understand that even if you disagree, you can talk about it and your opinions will be respected and everyone is there to build something larger than just themselves.

To me, that is pretty special.

In my upcoming blogs we will talk about what how we work collaboratively at Protegra.

#1 quality of a great team mate

Recently I have read a lot of articles and listened to many conversations that seem to place the individual ahead of the team. Frequently when we talk about group activities like meetings, paired activities, working from home, and co-located work spaces, the issue invariably comes up on how some people don’t see value in those activities. Some discussions take it a step farther and the state that people shouldn’t attend/perform those activities if they don’t see the value in them.

I believe we need to be careful that the focus on the individual doesn’t replace the focus on the team.

Meeting Value

I always thought that you get the most value from meetings when you are at the middle of your career. That is when you have enough confidence to speak up and still have a good amount to learn. When you are less experienced, you primarily just sit in the meetings and don’t want to be noticed. Late in your career, you have all of the experience to share but don’t learn as much from the meetings. If anything the value each person gets from meetings tends to look like a bell curve.

It is dangerous to look at meetings in the present and decide they do not have value for you. Perhaps at your current place in your career, they do have much value for you, but they may have all the value in the world for others. They may prevent a major issue for a teammate at a critical point in the project. (or in their personal life) Meetings and collaborative activities are all about communication and helping the team to be as efficient as possible. Many times the meeting will not provide a lot of value to an individual, but then at other times they will be invaluable.

I view working from home in a similar light. I believe it is the most efficient individually for most of us to work from home. We save an hour drive time and sometimes even save the environment from the hot water usage and gas usage to shower and get to work. But for the efficiency gained by one person, we typically have 4-8 others that now can’t just talk to you across the table while drawing on the whiteboard. It is true that technical tools can help to bridge the gap, but there just is no replacement for talking to someone and hearing the emotion and tone in their voice and seeing their face when working on an issue. So again we potentially have a trade-off between the efficiency of an individual versus the efficiency of a team.

So while it is very important to respect individuality, it is important for all of us to remember not to place individual priorities ahead of team priorities.

Now I would never recommend always placing team efficiency over individual efficiency. It is a balancing act that good people and great teams tend to master.

Great Teammates

But I do know that the really great teammates I have had the pleasure working with always think about what is best for the team and not just what is best for them individually. They are always learning and growing and eager to share what they have learned.

In thinking about it, the #1 quality in a great team-mate seems to be generosity. They are generous with their time, their talents, and their priorities. They always balance what they desire with what they know to be best for their team mates.