Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stirring The Hearts of Your Teammates

Remember, our line has always ruled with wisdom and strength. And I know you will show restraint when exercising your great power. But the truest victory, my son, is stirring the hearts of your people. I tell you this, for when my days have come to an end, you shall be King.

In the world of agencies and corporate software development, there are ladders. These ladders place you where "they" think you belong in terms of rank, power, and responsibility. Being at the bottom of the ladder can have an impact on your teammate(s) -- They feel like they're powerless and that their actions have no overall effect on the product you're trying to build. That said, this causes a snowball effect which is poisonous and will eventually affect the rest of the team. When teammates accept the fact that they're not tightly integrated with the decisions being made, we have ourselves rogue behaviour including low quality of work, less communication, and less contributions. The most obvious answer that most people will tell me is "fire them"; however, I'll explain a few things I implement for a better, sustainable solution for your team. That is, "to inspire them".

While I am borderline focusing on a well known corporate learning disability, such as, "I am my position", I'm going to try and explain my approach to genuinely motivate and inspire my teammates to commit themselves to the same shared vision.

First thing is respecting them as a human-being through selflessness and honour. Even the smallest question, such as, 'What do you think about ____? Could we possibly try your solution but with this ____?' can have a ripple effect on how they perceive themselves as part of the team. Another strategy is to always have eye contact -- it proves to them that your attention is 100% on their opinion. Additionally, you should always give them credit when credit is due. From the smallest bug fix to refactoring a ton of groundwork, giving them praise for their effort and dedication is always required. When things are going well, genuinely let them know that the project wouldn't be successful without them being onboard. Make them know they're worth a million dollars.

Diving deeper, if their mental models are skewed in such that they don't want to contribute work that benefits the company itself; show them that his/her work is what helps the rest of the team whether or not it benefits the company or the budgets. It is very easy to be blinded by death march projects (timelines, changes, budgets, compensation). Let them know that we're all on the same boat and when you are on the battlefield, your team is all you have to finish it -- You need everyone on the front lines to push forward.

These things may seem like basic actions in social dynamics; however, they are easy to neglect. It is the frequent, small actions that have the largest overall impact at the end of the project, much like, the parable of the boiling frog. Often times we forget that we're all human-beings (we are not super heroes) and face the same category of challenges along the way. Getting to the end of the tunnel of a death march project is only possible if you inspire your team to be helpful and committed to each other.

Good luck and have fun,
Jaime Bueza

Jaime Bueza is a software developer in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has developed web applications for Nintendo, Starbucks, Electronic Arts, Ritchie Brothers, Kiwi Collections, Cox Communications and Microsoft. When he's not developing useful software that constantly evolves with business requirements, he's creating tutorial videos for aspiring front-end developers.