#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.

What the #BlueBombers taught me about #leadership and #teams

Oh boy, every time I watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers I learn something. Sometimes I learn sometime just by watching the game or listening to post game interviews. Recently I listened to an interview with Head Coach Tim Burke and it was a great learning experience. Unfortunately for Tim Burke it was an example of what I feel you should never do to your team.

Unfortunately Tim Burke is in the public eye. I’m sure if I was interviewed about my teams throughout the years there would be a couple of doozy quotes that I would love to take back. Many times we state something and it comes out in a way we never intended. That was probably the situation with Tim Burke in this interview.

The Interview

In the interview, Tim Burke stated that the one of the main causes of the poor record was a lack of talent.

Oh Boy.

My Thoughts

Was Tim Burke telling the truth? Maybe, Probably. But you don’t say those things outside the team. The team is an organization where you can  be honest within the bounds, but you never throw team mates under the bus. Even if a problem could be traced to some team members

I have been brought up to fundamentally believe one thing in regards to the teams I belong to.

You never separate yourself from the team. You never state that a problem exists because of those guys over there. In these situations, you are placing yourself above the team. I’m OK, it is those guys over there that have caused all of the losses. How are those guys now supposed to have your back? And I know athletes are paid handsomely, but deep down they are still human beings with feelings and motivations like all of us. Would any of us put the extra work in when a boss called us out of the carpet? Maybe yes, probably no.

I’ve been taught that leaders should hold the team sacrosanct. I’m not saying you lie to protect your team, but you certainly don’t separate yourself to paint yourself in a better light.

Don’t get me wrong, I not saying Tim Burke should pretend a lack of talent isn’t a partial cause. But it can be phrased that it is one cause of many and we all have contributed to where we are. Suddenly a moment that divides the team becomes a moment that unites the team.

My belief system was forged in the fire of making mistakes.

I’m sure Time Burke regrets what he said. I sure hope he does.

Everything I needed to know about teams I learned from Dungeons and Dragons #PMOT

It occurred to me that the five key principles of teams that I learned early on were taught to me at an early age by Dungeons and Dragons. Now I’m not talking about any movie or video game knock-off of Dungeons and Dragons,  but the original Dungeons and Dragons in-person game. You know the one with the 20-sided dice and the Dungeon Master’s screen with the awesome red dragon on it? It even got better with Advanced Dungeon and Dragons with all the extra Monster Manuals – but I digress.

Here are the five principles I learned about good teams that I learned from Dungeons and Dragons

1) Have a diverse team

Early on it became very apparent how ineffective an entire team of Magic-Users were. I mean all we get to do is to roll the darn 4-sided die and strike with a dagger? That sucks. Ditto for Fighters and not being able to have cool attacks from a distance. To be able to get great treasure and defeat the cool monsters we need a diverse team with diverse races to take full advantage. Ever try to defeat a dragon with just a team of Halflings? enough said.

2) Have diverse team members

I must admit there are two vivid memories I have from my childhood. The first time I tried pizza and when I discovered multi-class characters. I mean it just blew my mind. You mean I can fight with a sword AND cast spells? Sign a brother up! That was the coolest thing in the world. I immediately became more powerful as I could do different attacks based upon the need of the situation. And when everyone on the team became multi-classed and we could as a group change to fit the situation? Nothing could defeat us.

3) Nothing replaces experience

I mean the gold was great and the magic items rocked. It was also great to collect all these things and trade and buy more, but the only thing that really mattered was getting experience. As I was predominantly a Magic-User, I became very aware how the level 1 and 2 spells sucked ducks. (Shout out to Troy Westwood on Banjo Bowl  Weekend) I mean the early spells were very limited, but when I looked at the latter spells I could raise the dead and have a Finger of Death? Now that was cool. Nothing replaces experience.

4) Seek out the Druids

I must admit early on I never saw the value of Druids. I mean commune with nature? Heal? That was kinda interesting, but did we really need a tree-hugger in our group? I mean we were all about hacking and slashing and pillaging. It was only later I looked at the druids as team members who would not only help all other members of the team, but as people who already had placed the needs of the environment and others ahead of their own. These were people who had empathy and concern for their teammates. They were willing to make the sacrifice for the greater good. I must admit, I really respected Druids for this. They traded their individual aspirations in and could not use a sharp-edged instrument at all. Mace and Clubs? Now that is a sacrifice.

Every successful project team I have been on has had a resident Druid who essentially was the glue of the team.

5) Exploration and investigation is the key to success

If you had a really good Dungeon Master, all the really good treasure was hard to find. Usually in a secret room or secret panel.

Dungeon crawling is quite similar to a project. You have an initial quest that you need to complete, but the real key to completing the quest and succeeding is examining the periphery of the quest and discovering the items that may not be immediately visible. But by finding these items, individual and group accomplishments became much easier and greater.

And if your Dungeon Master was really good, the quest was impossible to complete unless you explored and investigated. Just like in real life. Some projects may not succeed unless you exhaust all the options that may not be immediately apparent.

Summary

There is actually one more principle that I learned from Dungeons and Dragons. The Importance of Friendship. In our early levels we conducted ourselves as a group of individuals, but as we grew we showed more concern for our teammates and for splitting up the treasure appropriately. (and saving each other when our hit points were low)  The game taught us how to share, sacrifice, and appreciate members of the team. It also made us appreciate the fact that we grew-up together side by side.

You see this on really great teams that have accomplished great things. The bond that the individuals have never seem to fade. The generosity and concern for each other never fades. When they see each other they are taken back to the project and quests when they found the +25 Axe of Smiting.

Thanks Gary Gygax

#1 rule of #Agile Culture

I recently went on a two-day excursion to the United States to support the local economy in Grand Forks and I was struck with a unique message on a bill board on the way back to Winnipeg. There were the usual bill boards that listed the shopping malls, hotels, and restaurants that you should visit. But amongst all these capitalist bill boards, was a plain white bill board with black letters with a simple message.

“Be Kind.”

I wish I could have taken a picture to include in this post. But when I searched for the image on Google, lo and behold someone else had taken a photo and uploaded it. It seems I wasn’t the only one affected by this simple message.

Be_Kind_Sign

What it means to me

To me this simple message was a reminder of what I feel is most important in all teams. Whether the teams be project teams, family, sports teams, or any other grouping of like-minded individuals. It is even more important in leadership or management positions to place kindness first – before egos, agendas, vision, or politics.

As I start 2013 with my family and project teams, my New Year’s resolution is to always keep this in mind.

  • To be kind to my team mates as we discuss different opinions
  • To be kind to my clients as we discuss changing requirements and how we can make them delighted
  • To be kind to agilists with other opinions that I may not initially agree with. To strive to understand their positions before making up my mind.
  • To be kind to the value we are delivering and to eagerly accept change when it adds more value.
  • To be kind to change and to not react against any new ideas.
  • To be kind with my family and smile and laugh every day.

Summary

My goal is to have that image of that sign as I go through 2013.  As I thought about it, I felt that if I was truly kind to all the people I interact with and the project, then the project and relationships I had would be very successful.

Recently it seems more focus has been placed on Agile Culture and less on Agile Methods.

To me, “Be Kind” should be the first principle of Agile Culture.

#BeautifulTeam: #Canada and the #USA

As I mentioned in my last Blog post, I’ve been reading the book ‘Beautiful Teams’. It has been and continues to be one of the best books I have read for quite a long time. Great read. Highly recommended.

After reading a few of the recent team stories in ‘Beautiful Games’ about Computech and the creation of the ‘Little Big Planet’ game, an idea came to me about their beautiful teams and our beautiful countries. It seemed to be a great topic for a Blog post just after our National Holidays. My apologies for writing it on July 5th, but sometime you can’t schedule ideas. 🙂

Many of their stories talk about the balance between staying true to the vision and to the team members. It is something that I am sure many teams struggle with on how to balance these two opposing forces. I then realized how the countries of Canada and the United States of America are perhaps a great example of how the cultures of the countries can reflect these principles.

United States of America

One thing I have always admired about our neighbours to the south, is their patriotism and commitment to the vision of the country. Now there may be differences as to what we think that vision should truly be, but the amount of passion and commitment to the country is inspiring. In Canada, the vision of the country sometime seems to thought of after the individual. We expect we will stay true to the vision of Canada based on how we treat and embrace our diverse citizens. In many ways I think this is true, but in some ways I wonder if this causes a vision to be dispersed and stretched like too little butter spread on toast. (Tip of the hat to J.R.R. Tolkien) Our national identity and vision seems to be less focused than it was in our past.

I believe being committed to a vision is to be committed to principles and an ideal that usually requires individual sacrifice and placing the needs of vision above the needs of the individual or the team. This usually results in the individual having less to ensure the vision is maintained. This commitment to vision is embraced vibrantly in the USA.  

Canada

One thing I have always admired about my country, is our commitment to our fellow team mates and citizens. Not everyone in Canada shares this commitment, but I do believe that this ideal is more pronounced in Canada. I believe we consider it our duty to give our ‘fair share’ so those that are less fortunate can be afforded the basic necessities of life. We can discuss whether we do enough in this regard and whether the actions achieve the desired result, but I believe it is core to the culture of Canada to help our fellow citizens as best we can. I think this concept can be easily extended to project teams and commitment to all team members.

In ‘Beautiful Teams’, the story on Computech had a great example on why commitment to all team members is so important. They told the story about an ‘underperformer’ and the extra work this ‘underperformer’ required from everyone. Wouldn’t they be a better team without him?

The answer is a resounding no. How a company works with ‘underperformers’ and helps them grow and work shows the commitment the team has to all members at all times. This loyalty to all team members results in more creativity, innovation, loyalty, and trust in the team because they know everyone has ‘their back’. They know that they will not be fired when they make a mistake.

Summary

In combining the best of Canada and the USA, I know we could create a beautiful team. We will have commitment to the vision and commitment to each other. I noticed two things as I typed this:

1)      This discussion made no distinction between managers and team members. This is good, we are all team members.

2)      There was no mention of the individual. Individual needs come after the Vision and the needs of our team mates.  It is logical! (Tip of the hat to Gene Roddenberry)

At the end of the day, the organizational must balance the needs of the individual, team, and vision properly to create a high-performing organization. The emphasis placed on each item may fluctuate over time based on situations, but they need to be balanced over time.

When I reviewed what I perceive to be great organizations, they balance these needs exceedingly well. (From both a short-term and long-term perspective) This is true whether the organization is Unionized, Governmental, Private, or Entrepreneurial. (although the balance in each type of organization can be different as can the type of person that wants to belong to each type of organization)

I believe that combining the USA’s commitment to Vision and Canada’s commitment to our Teammates does create a Beautiful Team.

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.