QCon San Francisco 2008 - Teamwork is an individual skill

Martin van Vliet

One of the best sessions of the first day of QCon for me was the talk "Teamwork is an individual skill" by Christopher Avery. The talk focused on skills and habits that we can learn to become effective team members. This is becoming more and more important since most of us are in the position that people we have no direct influence over determine whether we are successful or not. A software development team is a good example of this.

Team members on a software development team are dependent on each other to achieve their goals. This interdependence forces team members to work together. Of course this is easier said than done. One of the things that makes this hard is the way people respond to problems. Typically, they go through the following steps:

1. Lay blame ("Which one of you code monkeys broke the build?!")
2. Justify ("It's always broken anyway...")
3. Shame ("I must be the worst developer EVER!")
4. Obligation ("I guess I have to fix the build since that's what we agreed on.")
5. Take responsibility

Only the fifth step is a good attitude for learning and growth, but in order to arrive there, the first steps will have to be passed. Being aware of these steps can help you take responsibility more quickly.

Christopher showed data about successful teams and the factors that can predict their success. The interesting thing is that the top 3 factors were trust, goodwill/cooperation, and a shared purpose. Technical skills appear somewhere around the 15th spot on the list. This surprised me since in my experience, technical expertise plays a larger role in project success or failure than this spot leads me to believe.

Comments (5)

  1. sunil - Reply

    November 21, 2008 at 6:29 am

    Interesting read in deed. I also think it all depends on individual, how he responds. At the end of the day no body can be taught to have/show "trust,goodwill/cooperation, and a shared purpose."

    Anyways Qcon seems to have both technical and non-technical sessions ?

  2. Lars Vonk - Reply

    November 22, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Hard to believe indeed Martin... I have the same experience as you regarding the impact of (lack of) technical expertise on a project.
    What kind of data did the presenter have, and is it available somewhere?

  3. Martin van Vliet - Reply

    November 24, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Sunil, I agree, these basic character traits should be available in the people in your team, I don't think they can be taught.

    QCon is a conference targeted at teamleads and architects so it has both technical as well as non-technical content.

  4. Martin van Vliet - Reply

    November 24, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Lars, the data the presenter showed comes from the website http://www.great-teams.com. However, there is only an example shown on this site. How you would go about obtaining all of the data is a bit unclear to me.

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