concocting  extraordinary  teams

June 19, 2006

Teamwork in Real Life

I'm sitting patiently in the waiting room in the Women's Hospital maternity ward. It's been a long labour, and everyone is tired - most notably the star performer. In the delivery room, important and difficult decisions are being weighed.

I'm doing what, I suspect, a number of other geeky maternity-support-persons are doing elsewhere on the planet, while waiting for the happy announcement: working, while a FIFA match whispers away in the corner. In my case: working on ideas related to metrics and how to appropriately measure our work. Ok, it IS a little hard to focus :-) I'm cherry picking the easy work. My mind wanders.

It's an odd juxtaposition: my work, as it happens, has never been life-critical... if I make the wrong choice and screw up at work, no one dies. Here, today, a bunch of people are collaborating to make something life-changing happen (one very small and inexperienced, another other near exhaustion, the rest largely spectators). The decisions being made in that room are relentless: there will be no change of scope, quality must be maximized for all involved, and we're already paying for a little slippage in the due date. There's actually a bottleneck right now, and no way to share the burden. Compared to my 'important' work decisions, the difference is stark: these decisions are of a completely different order, and they must be made. They will be made.

It reminds me that we make critical decisions frequently, in relation to our lives and the lives of others. Is this the right nanny for my kids? Should I risk the side effects of this medication? Is Lisa really old enough to drive responsibly? Will moving grandpa to a care facility avert a house fire or break his spirit? We have figured out how to make these decisions, because we must: focus on our values, do the best we can to achieve them, stop frequently to evaluate, recalibrate. Why does this skill somehow evaporate on the commute to the office?

Oh, an update: we're apparently playing the "decide at the last responsible moment" card. Tick, tick, tick. More waiting. So...

Why do we spend so much energy getting 15% savings in our colour photocopy usage, while our customer support costs soar unchecked through the roof? Why do we work overtime on features that no one has asked for? In short: Why do we silently watch the corporate train head over a cliff? Is it that we've learned to be "good (i.e. obedient) corporate citizens"? It makes me crazy: this is NOT teamwork.

Teams, over time, align their goals so they are all running in the same general direction. Narrowly defining the concept of "team" at a departmental level does not accomplish this: the Facilities team "wins" when we save on photocopying, the Development team "wins" when the software demo goes smoothly. But if nobody's minding the store, we all lose - in fact, we could be losing the whole time we are "winning".

I like to think in pictures: in keeping with the theme of the week (and the expectant father's occupation :-), which of these soccer balls will speed toward the goal first? No matter how
well-aimed or artfully executed, these six consecutive kicks on ball A will not send it very far up the field. The analogy breaks down about there, I think (I'm a swimmer, forgive me if it fails entirely :-) But it brings me back to the workshop Robin and I are creating, called Appropriate Agile Metrics: Knowing What, and When, to Measure. Our title graphic is the lovely drawing of Alignment recently published here. It's a call to common sense, in the hope of fostering aligned values in our workplaces, so we can all pull (kick?) in the same direction.

Still waiting. Some time today, order will emerge out of chaos. Time to stretch my legs...

Update: Brandon Choumbe-Niles was born on Father's Day, June 18th, 2006 at 12:56 PM, with an absolute minimum of intervention :-) and mom and baby are calm, happy and well. Hurray!!

As I left the still-dark room this morning to find coffee, my sleepy friend said: "thanks for the great teamwork!" Well, I'm pretty sure I didn't do the hard part... apart from driving and sustenance, my job is to send daddy some photos. (PS: it really does take a village :-))


Blogger Tobias Mayer said...

Nice post Deb. I like how you interweave that essential thing, "real life" with the less important activity of work :-)

> We have figured out how to make these decisions, because we must: focus on our values, do the best we can to achieve them, stop frequently to evaluate, recalibrate. Why does this skill somehow evaporate on the commute to the office?

Great observation, great question, and one that I puzzle over frequently. We are all, by nature, agilists. I truly believe that. But in our work lives, and especially, it seems, in the software industry, we have had that very natural way of thinking and behaving beaten out of us. It's so sad.

Our job as Agile coaches is almost a con. We give nothing, we simply take stuff away. We are garbage men, paid (paid outrageous sums of money) to remove the crap that has accumulated around software people.

"To gain knowledge, add something everyday; to gain wisdom remove something everyday" -- Lao Tzu

That should be the mantra of the Agile coach.

Wed. Aug. 02, 12:23:00 p.m.


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