Monday, March 02, 2009

The Right People

I talk a lot about getting the "right people on the bus" when talking about teams, especially agile teams. Quite simply, by ensuring the people involved can all pull together rather than undermine each other makes a critical difference to the success or otherwise of the team. Research suggests that this is more critical than we might think.

But how do you find these people? How can you recognise them? What traits do these people have? I've had a go at nailing down specific behavioural traits based on my experience of working with good - and bad - engineers over the years. In no particular order:
  • Courage. The "right people" that I talk about are courageous. They overcome their fear of being wrong and are prepared to challenge ideas. They are also "doers", people who have the courage and motivation to get up and make a change where it is needed.
  • Pride. Not the damaging kind, but pride as in wanting to do a job well. Professional pride is definitely one trait that separates a money focussed Mortgage Driven Developer from a Software Craftsman. Striving for improvement is always valuable.
  • Respect and Humility. Being humble is hugely important when working closely with others towards a common goal. It is the ability to sit and listen without judgement, then provide feedback and respectful challenge. It is the ability to admit when you are wrong. The ability to resist pointing fingers and scoring political points when others stumble. From humility comes respect.
  • Curiosity. I cannot think of a single successful developer or manager who does not play with new technologies and/or techniques to see if they are useful. If they work, they get added to their toolbox. If they don't work, they get put to on side until they find a use. Active curiosity stops people from getting stuck in a rut and proves they have the ability to learn.
  • Communication. The ability to communicate is essential. Gone are the days when developers can "go dark" for weeks on end. Active, regular communication engenders understanding. Rolling this ability in with respect, humility and courage creates a powerful mix that gets results.
  • Sense of fun. Fun is a useful way of releasing potentially damaging stress. I also think it is massively undervalued in the workplace. In my experience, people who have fun tend to be better motivated and have a better work-life balance than those who are 100% focussed on serious work. The better balance allows them to deliver day in, day out. And sometimes a Nerf duel is simply the only way to settle that pointless design argument....

People who have these traits are rare but worth seeking out - they are definitely out there. If you can build a development team of these kinds of people then you really will have a team to be reckoned with - if you put them on the right bus...but that's another article.

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