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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Tough Times Forge Great Teams

I have a small exercise for you. Describe several attributes of a great team.

Dedicated people?

“One for all, all for one” type of attitude?

Friendly atmosphere?

Being helpful to each other?

Focus on achieving team goals, not personal ones?

Strong personal relationships beside professional interactions?

Ability to deal with difficult situations?

I guess all of them are true. The funny thing is those attributes are exposed more likely whenever tough times come. I know several great teams which were born when no favorable circumstances could be found.

A team with commonly disliked boss. Suddenly it appeared the team wanted to show not only they can manage their task with no boss at all, but even with a boss who disturb instead of help. Engagement skyrocketed. Teamwork went on new level. They used to say the sky was the limit. They should just leave but instead they choose to resist. What an irony, soon after they got what they wanted to – their boss had left – the team scattered.

A technical team which worked in difficult company environment. All decisions were driven by salespeople with no balance from the other side of the barricade. Unreasonable project decisions were their bread and butter. No one tried to understand all the technical issues. Schedules were cut in the half with no rational reason. If you add some financial problems of the company the environment should force anyone to leave immediately. Another time people chose to fight. Despite tough time they managed to complete very challenging task. They built strong personal relationships. They created friendly oasis in hostile environment. However, since things haven’t changed for a longer period of time they started to look for a better future elsewhere.

Becoming a great team is a way of self-defense. If people acted as they’d do during peace time they’d have to leave soon. Leaving a job is almost always a hard decision to make so people start to be engaged a bit more. And a bit more. And a bit more… Other try to follow and suddenly everyone works as he was on steroids.

A bad news for those companies which try to forge great team that way is you never know when it ends. Patience isn’t endless. People will leave and you’ll lose much more than you’d thought – an additional value brought by their greatness.

Building a great team during normal time can be paradoxically more difficult, however that way the results last much, much more.

in: team management

5 comments… add one

  • Lech August 11, 2008, 5:19 am

    A sense of crisis ‘to bind them all?’ A ‘burning platform?’ Management by conflicts? A bit of everything probably. Sounds real to me.

    Thanks for sharing. Thanks for the insight!

  • Pawel Brodzinski August 11, 2008, 9:38 am

    I wouldn’t go for management by conflicts methods. It was rather an observation than advise how to make teams great. In other words: don’t try that at home.

  • Lech August 12, 2008, 8:04 am

    True. I don’t think stirring up conflicts or faking a “burning platform” is the way to go.
    The observation seems convincing to me though. When I look back on the great teams I knew in the past, there was this sense of togetherness [inside] vs. uncertain times outside. Or people, for that matter. Forgive me the banality, but… members of such teams behaved like crews sailing on lonely boats through waters of change.

    I do recall a president of an SME I used to work for who built his company on that concept. He even hired VPs who were prone to cause conflicts or were generally disliked by others. Back then, I didn’t understand why a [seemingly] good leader made such HR decisions. I wasn’t the only one having doubts.

    It worked though. This was a great company.

  • Pawel Brodzinski August 13, 2008, 3:40 am

    I didn’t know any manager who I was sure exploited those kind of method on consciously. I know a lot of situation when they were used because managers were poor at their work.

    Example you bring is a very interesting one. Bringing a toxic person to strenghen the team. Well, that was a risky move.

    By the way, if you can tell, why did you leave?

  • Lech August 19, 2008, 9:42 pm

    Sure. I was too young and my ego – too big.

    Darned recruitment questions. Ah, you’ve been doing too much of that! *wink* But hey, I’d be asking that one too.

    (General “greatness” seems rather fuzzy a term to me. There are various shades of grey.
    BTW, you gave me an idea for a new entry. Thanks a bunch!)

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