#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.

Three principles of #TeamWork – Illustrated by Canadian Politics

People ask how I come up with some of my ideas for Blog posts. I tell them that typically they arise during discussions I have with colleagues or because of something I have read or heard. I also tell them that usually when you find a topic that you think would be a good Blog post, you know it immediately. Such was the case this past weekend when I read the following article on Justin Trudeau and his political viewpoints.

Context

For those of you not familiar with Canadian politics or the Trudeau family, let me provide some context. First off I should declare that I have no affiliation with any political party. In fact, I’m equally pessimistic about what any of the political parties accomplish. Now onto the context.

The Canadian political landscape is made up of four major political parties (Sorry Green Party); the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Québécois, and the New Democratic Party. For sake of easy comparison for my American friends, the Liberals are Democrats, Conservatives are Republicans, Bloc Québécois are a separatist/succession party that speaks for a separate Quebec, and the New Democrats are a party that is supported primarily by Unions and Labour. Now that I have offended probably every Canadian with political affiliations, lets move on. 🙂

Pierre Elliot Trudeau was one of my country’s most influential Prime Ministers. You can argue whether you agreed with his policies, but you can’t argue that he has left a lasting impact on Canada. He also had a passion for doing what he believed in and not just what he thought the people wanted to hear. I think it is a quality sorely missing in our leaders today. But I digress.

Justin Trudeau is Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s son who has now entered the political spotlight. Suffice it to say he does not like the governing Conservative Party. But the reaction to some of his comments by political analysts were comments that I felt spoke of teamwork or the lack of teamwork.

Justin’s Statement

“I always say, if at a certain point, I believe that Canada was really the Canada of Stephen Harper — that we were going against abortion, and we were going against gay marriage, and we were going backwards in 10,000 different ways — maybe I would think about making Quebec a country.”

The reaction

The reaction was swift and perhaps overly harsh. I think you have to take some of the comments with a grain of salt as most political analysts do have a political axe to grind. Nonetheless, in my opinion the comments were very insightful when compared to aspects of teamwork.

“Robert Asselin, a political scientist at the University of Ottawa who specializes in Canada-Quebec affairs, noted the inherent narcissism of Trudeau’s attitude. “That’s the first observation I would make. But also, government policy should not dictate one’s preference for secession or not. Secession is a very grave action and you don’t even suggest it (as a possibility) because you don’t share certain beliefs or values of the government of the moment.”

“Politics is not about personal feelings,” said Barry Cooper, a political theorist at the University of Calgary, “It’s about the ethics of responsibility. He was elected as a member of Parliament from a particular constituency. He was not elected in his own right because he has these sensitive feelings about various things. Whether he likes it or not, he’s supposed to be a responsible political leader, and he’s clearly incapable of understanding what his job is.”

I really liked Barry Cooper’s quote and if you allow me some poetic license to replace some key words to make the quote about team work we get:

“Team work is not just about personal feelings, It’s about the ethics of responsibility. He was a team member from a particular area. He was not there solely in his own right because he has these sensitive feelings about various things. Whether he likes it or not, he’s supposed to be a responsible team member, and he’s clearly incapable of understanding what that means.”

Interesting no? Cooper goes on to state:

“You’ve got this kind of narcissistic response that the state only exists to reflect your values. There’s nothing to be patriotic about (and) so you can indulge whatever idiosyncratic policy preferences you might have.”

And finally:

“Trudeau’s statement reflected the “incredible notion” that loyalty to one’s country is predicated on whether that country lived up to your personal sentiments, said Tom Darby, a political philosopher at Carleton University in Ottawa. It is quite legitimate to oppose the policies of a particular government, he said, but Trudeau showed no sense of what Canadians have in common, no sense of shared citizenship and the responsibilities that come with citizenship.”

Summary

I think some of the pundits quotes are very revealing as to the principles of team work. These quotes contained the three principles I always use when describing a great team:

  1.  Modest about themselves
  2.  Loyal to their teammates
  3.  Responsible to the greater good

I’m again using poetic license as modest was not mentioned but the opposite of modest was – narcissistic.

I don’t want to be overly critical of Justin Trudeau. I think he has the capability to eventually be a great leader for our country. But he does need to learn more about team work. And is there any greater team than our country? I would have concerns of any team member that is willing to throw his country away when he doesn’t agree with the governing party. It goes against Modesty, Loyalty, and Responsibility.

You can find the full article here.

Seven traits I look for in #Agile teammates

There are seven traits that I have seen in the great number of teammates on Agile projects that I now look for when I am asked to recruit or add to Agile project teams. Most of these could also apply to traditional project teams, but I have found their absence seems to affect  Agile teams even more. I thought it would make for a good post to share those items. Please let me know your thoughts on my list, I am sure there are other items I have not mentioned:

Without further ado:

1. Profound Empathy for the client

It is become common for people to state they are ‘client-focused’ in resumes and discussions with other people, but I am talking about a client empathy that is much more profound. I have seen ‘client-focused’ individuals just state ‘oh well’ or state reasons when a requirement is missed or a defect introduced that has caused much pain to the client. The type of Profound Empathy I have seen in awesome Agile teammates are ones where the teammates build a friendship with the clients and feel a true relationship to the client. (the client is not different from them) The best ones even have feeling of remorse as issues arise. You don’t want these feelings to be all-consuming for teammates, but when teammates go from exclaiming ‘oh well’ to ‘lets figure out not to have this happen again to Murray’ we are definitely on the right track.

2. Lack of an Ego

In an Agile project, we are frequently going to change our roles and duties based upon what is needed. It is much harder to have teammates who are only Project Managers or Developers or Business Analysts. I have heard some people state ‘I just write what the specs say’, ‘I just write down what the client says’, and ‘I just assign the tasks’. I refer to this as Ego as I think the people have identified more with their roles than the client, problem, or solution. We need people to do whatever it takes to get to end of job. That mean an experienced Project Manager may need to learn a new testing framework and implement it or an experienced architect may need to write basic reports because that is what is required.

No work is beneath anyone, and people really enjoy working on whatever helps to move the project forward.

The important distinction here is that people sometimes will work on other tasks but then be unhappy about. People without Ego honestly love to work on whatever is needed to move the project forward.

Why is this? Because they….

3. Desire to learn and try new things

Have a real desire to learn and try new things. They don’t want to learn a skill and rinse and repeat for the rest of their careers. When they are asked to learn a new skill and operate in a new role they are excited for the opportunity to learn and expand their skills. They read up on topics they enjoy in their spare time, they tinker with new technologies and methods, and are eager to then try to apply what they have learned.

4. Are collaborative in problem solving and decision-making

One of the interview questions I love to ask is:

‘What is the toughest problem you have solved and how did you arrive at the solution?”

I find you get a good read on a person’s problem solving skills and their collaborative tendencies to solve problems and make decisions. I have been on many projects where individuals sought input from teammates not because it was required, but because they honestly wanted that feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve. They really understood that every single person has a set of experiences and expertise that can offer something.

Now the important distinction is that they are not afraid to make a decision, they are just collaborative in gathering the information to facilitate that decision. They still may have to make a decision that not everyone agrees with.  It is really about collaboration and not consensus.

5. Desire and ability to help grow the team

Not everyone is going to have a wealth of experience. You need the teammates who welcome lesser experienced individuals and relish the opportunity to share their experiences with them. It is about all of us getting better. It really is discouraging when I hear people mention that someone is going to slow them down or may place the project at risk because of their inexperience.

I absolutely love teammates who look for opportunities to help to grow their teammates. They understand that the project is only a short-term situation and building awesome teammates will help us all in the long run. And even more profoundly, they honestly like to teach and help people reach their full potential. That is awesome.

6. Problem Solving Talent/ Talent with a diverse set of skills

One item I don’t see mentioned a lot on these lists is talent. Even if someone has the five traits previously mentioned, they still need to have the talent and skills in the roles that are required. Usually I find that the people who have been great teammates are all great problem solvers and they have a primary expertise with the ability to have secondary or tertiary expertise. (Or the ability to gain this expertise rather quickly) This could be in development, analysis, testing, database design, project management (eek!) or a multitude of others.

The important thing is that beside the great teammate traits listed above, each teammate has to bring talent to the project to contribute. (at whatever level is appropriate)

7. Initiative

And the last item is initiative. I’m not calling it leadership as that term I feel sometimes goes against the concept of self-organizing teams. (Does a self-organized team really need to be led?) I like initiative as it captures the sentiment that every team member should feel comfortable showing initiative and contributing at the appropriate points in a project.

The important thing is you want everyone on the project to contribute ideas and not just feel that ideas are someone else’s responsibility. Of course it is the responsibility of the entire team to create the environment where people feel comfortable proposing ideas. But that is a topic for another post…

 

Shannon Sharpe and the four characteristics of great #Agile #Teams

After listening to Shannon Sharpe’s emotional speech for induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame, I’d like to share my thoughts about teams on Agile projects.I thought about how much I would have liked to be on Shannon Sharpe’s teams. How much I would have enjoyed being around someone who cared so much about playing, succeeding, and winning. How he balanced having fun with never losing sight of the end goal.

Definitions

The overused definition for a team is:

“A team comprises a group of people linked in a common purpose.” – Wikipedia

The definition for a project team is:

“A team used only for a defined period of time and for a separate, concretely definable purpose, often becomes known as a project team. Managers commonly label groups of people as a “team” based on having a common function. Members of these teams might belong to different groups, but receive assignment to activities for the same project thereby allowing outsiders to view them as a single unit. In this way, setting up a team allegedly facilitates the creation, tracking and assignment of a group of people based on the project in hand. The use of the “team” label in this instance often has no relationship to whether the employees are working as a team.” – Wikipedia

I was somewhat shocked in the acknowledgement that project teams are usually not teams, but project groups. I know we have all been on great teams and not so great teams. What separates one from the other? When does a group of individuals stop being just a group and start being a team?

The four characteristics of a great Agile Team

I believe there are four characteristics of great teams.

1. They care about each other

Great teams care about each other. Not just the chit-chat in the morning as you are standing around the water cooler, but the honest interest and care about every team member. Can a great team not like each other? I’m honestly not sure. Maybe a good team can not like each other, but to be a great team I believe you have to care about one another. I believe you have to be friends and not just co-workers or acquaintances. This may mean that some skilled individuals may not be the best team mates as they don’t have the same level of care and concern that the other team mates may have.

Most importantly, they need to care about the client. There can’t be a division between the development team and the client. The client needs to be the one they care most about. If they care about the client and fellow team mates, the project is usually in good hands.

2. They respect the ‘game’ are driven to win the ‘game’ and are ‘students of the game’

Almost all great teams are respectful of the ‘game’ or process and are ‘students of the game’. They strive to learn and get better, they are never satisfied with being just good enough. They love to learn and are always striving to improve.

But most importantly, they respect the game. They never complete a task halfway to just say it was done. They never complete a document grudgingly, they never give anything but their best effort. They understand this is unprofessional and is cheating themselves and not respecting those they have learned from.

I don’t usually hear the term winning when it comes to projects. I think we have reduced our expectations for projects so much that we are usually happy with just ‘Meets Expectations”. Great teams push each other to not just meet expectations but win the project. Meeting the budget and delivering the agreed scope should not be good enough, we should always strive to do more and never be satisfied. A  project with a green status is really just a ‘C’ grade. We need to strive for the ‘A+’ again. Great teams do this.

I think bringing the concept of winning back to project teams would help the teams strive for continuous improvement. We need to think about how we can win the game with the largest score. And the opponent is not the client or scope. The opponent is the challenge of the project and the client and the development team is working together to deliver the most value.

Although these traits are individual traits, great teams will self-police and demand this from their team members.

3. They sacrifice

Great teams have individuals that sacrifice for each other and for the team. There are no personal agendas, there are no egos. They will do whatever it takes to ensure the project, the team, and their teammates are successful. This is why agile projects stress cross-functional teams. This aspect removes most of the ‘that isn’t my job’ discussions.

This aspect is a consequence of caring for each other. When people truly care about each other, it is very easy to sacrifice for each other.

4. They have fun

Great teams need to have fun while they are going about their business. If not, the team will usually break apart under the stress of the project. Great team mates have the ability to create an environment where other team mates can be relaxed and have fun. This is a critical skill.

How do you create a great team?

I remember one man telling me that great teams and projects are made by ‘putting together people with good hearts and letting them do what they believe in’. This is very true. People with good hearts care about others, strive to always improve personally and are never satisfied, sacrifice for each other, and are usually very easy to smile.

The challenge is finding these people with good hearts. Some of them develop the characteristics of a good team-mate at home, some at school, and some at work. They are all developed under the care of other people with good hearts, people like Mary Porter. Shannon Sharpe’s granny showed all of these traits to Shannon Sharpe. We should all be so lucky to have a granny of our own once in our lives to show us how to be a good team-mate.