Much too often people end up in a static state in their work. They might do their job and maybe even do it very well to the needs of the company for which they are working but a lot of people don’t develop themselves anymore.
To be able to develop yourself you need to step out of your comfort zone. It is comparable to physical training. It doesn’t matter if you are training for a world record on the marathon or just want to extend your weekly recreational run from 5km to 6km. If an athlete will run a marathon at the exact same pace as he is used to, he will probably never be able to break the record that he wants. He will need to stretch beyond the capabilities of his current strength and stamina to achieve what he wants to achieve. This will hurt in the beginning, but will make him stronger and achieve his goal faster.
Self development of people in their line of work works in a similar fashion. The best way to develop yourself is to step out of your comfort zone and use tools, technologies or approaches that you are not used to. Just as with physical exercise it will hurt and initially you will probably do your work slower compared to how it would be when staying in that nice comfort zone. And there is even the risk of not being able to complete your work at all because your experiment dit not work out the way you wanted it. But in the end, you will have learned and you have improved yourself.
So as a manager which people do you want? Which people will bring your company further? The people that will stay safely in their comfort zone, or the people that will take a risk from time to time? The second group of people will definitely make some of your iterations fail, but in the end they will also realize the improvements that your company needs to gain an edge of your competition.
Managers often talk about a phenomenon called team building. This insinuates that you can actually “build” a team and simply put a number of individual people together and expect them to work together as an optimal performing team.
Well let’s just burst that bubble, there is no such thing as team building, a team can only be created by growing it and nurturing it step by step through the forming phases of a team until it reaches the level needed to unleash the full potential.
As a team manager you need to work the system to create the best possible environment for the team, invest in and coach the team members to help them to develop themselves and the team. In this aspect you can compare a manager with a gardener who tries to create the best environment to let the plants and flowers grow to get that award winning garden.
To get the most out of a team, a team should be an entity within an organization that has its own identity including a name, goals, values, metrics etc. In essence it is an organizational unit on its own.
This also means that you cannot just create a team for projects that you encounter and tear the team up again when the project is over. Organizations use short lived teams like this a lot because they assume that people in an organization are just a big pool of resources that you can use to populate project teams with.
But let´s be realistic, will a short lived team ever be reaching their full potential? Most likely they won’t. A team needs to get used to each other, needs to grow, needs to develop an identity and then needs to learn from each iteration to improve as a team. A team that is going to be ripped apart after just a few months is never going to be motivated to develop the team, most development efforts will be individual, because in organizations like this it is the individual that counts and not the team, teams are just temporary groups of individuals.
If you want to reap the full benefits of being agile you will need to find a way to create and develop teams as multi disciplinary self organized units within your organization that can handle your projects instead of just looking for the individuals with the skill sets that match the requirements of your project.
I spend a lot of time being in L’viv with our employees that are working from there. While I am there I spend quite some time in inspiring environments.
Even though their office space is not the best of all places it is still quite an inspiring place. Everywhere you see people working together, there is music playing in the kitchen, there is a fish tank, a wall of fame (or shame depending on how you look at it), there are people playing foosball together and you can see that people have spent attention to their working place since most of them have some personal things on their work place such as pictures, etc. Basically it is a lively place where you see good things happening regarding human interaction combined with work.
Next to the working environment and the people that are working there I also experience the hotel, in which I am usually staying while I am in L’viv, as a comfortable place which brings out the best in me. Usually the best ideas that I have surfaced while I was enjoying a relaxing evening in this hotel after a though working day.
And last but not least the face to face work related conversations with the employees and also the CEO of this company always motivate me to find even better ways to manage these teams and get even more out of them.
When the multiple disciplines in software development such as design, development and testing were working completely separated from each other the most important task of a manager was to get people that are exceptionally skilled in their specialism. As long as a person was skilled in his own area of work a lack of the so called soft skills (teamwork, communication, etc) could mostly be overcome. The project manager was responsible to provide the communication within a team and it was his or her role to make sure that information from one specialist was transferred to the other.
This resulted in a controlled environment for all people in the different disciplines. Developers only needed to communicate with other developers, designers only communicated with other designers and the management communicated the artifacts from one discipline to the other and to the customers.
Even though it was still no easy task, life of a recruiter must have been much easier back then.
The introduction of agile changed the entire playing ground. Technical skills are low on the priority list when recruiting for agile teams. Suddenly developers need to communicate to testers, documentation specialist and UX specialists and vice versa. And if that is not enough they actually need to communicate with the customer as well. Add to that the need for a team to be self organizing and multidisciplinary and we end up in a recruiters worst nightmare.
As a manager of several development teams I often need to make a decision about hiring a new team member for one of our SCRUM teams. For me the following criteria are most important in making the decision to add someone to an agile software development team, in order of importance:
Education is a very important part of a business that is continually changing like the magical world of software development always is.
Fortunately for all the IT professionals in the business many companies acknowledge this and have training budgets available to make sure that we are all kept up to date with the latest technologies and procedures. In the more structured companies this is even part of the evaluation of personel.
One group of “employees” however is always overlooked when it comes to education, namely the upper management of the organization. In many cases it seems like most CEO’s, COO’s, CFO’s and other C level management seems to think “I am in charge, I know everything already”.
Even though the most important role of the management of an organization is to put the right people on the right places this does not mean that they don’t have to be up to date with the latest developments regarding their work area. Of course this does not mean that the CEO needs to attend a ruby on rails training but at least he or she should know the reasons why the company has chosen certain directions.
Besides the obvious need to know the reasons behind the core activities of a company it is also important to keep the management skills up to date. Just look at the way companies are managed nowadays compared to for example 15 to 20 years ago and you will see the need to constantly improve management skills and adapt to the changes in the business.
Unfortunately training the C level management of an organization is usually forgotten, which is a shame because you can have all the technical skills within your company that you can imagine, if nobody is able to manage it correctly it all goes to waste.