John found a fantastic essay that questions the importance of teamworking skills. Personally – and this might be the wrong thing to say considering I’m currently looking for work – I hate working in teams. It all goes back to being the smart kid in elementary school. I’d get stuck with all the anti-social losers that the teacher felt would benefit from my leadership. Instead I ended up doing all the work myself just so we wouldn’t fail. Eventually I discovered that I just work better alone. Even when I played sports, I played singles tennis, where my success or failure was entirely up to me. It’s just easier to get things done when you’re the only person responsible for it.

That said, I have of course had to work on teams in my career and the experiences were not all bad. The best cases were when everyone had a clearly defined role. I’d rather be the only HTMLer and have to do twice as much work than have to pair up with somebody else and go through the business of deciding who does what, what format to do it in, correcting their mistakes, etc. To me, specialization is the key to a good team. The only problem is that most I.T. companies fall into the mistakes mentioned in this article. They use “teamwork skills” as a convenient way to pressure people into working 60-hour weeks. If a project (or team) was getting behind, the solution was always to throw more people at it, rather than look at the ways the structure was already messed up. Most “successful” team projects only happened because two or three individuals pulled an all-nighter fixing what everyone else had screwed up.

Snookums and I have been debating this type of thing for awhile now. We lived with a Project Manager who felt that it was the duty of the better team members to handhold the others through the project. Our argument was always that companies may want this, but they never budget for the extra time. When a project is high priority on a tight deadline, mentoring goes out the window. And when it comes right down to it, I trust myself in those situations better than I trust anybody else.

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  1. Hey there. You trying to say something? 🙁

    Though that whole business of throwing people at the problem is dealt iwith in a book called the “mythical man month”.

    We crashed a PM’s forum (sorry ND speak) the other day and Steve Jones asked them (the PMs’) if they’d read it and not one of them had! He was not impressed.

    I actually quite like working in a team and when I was on the AA project it worked quite well once someone took responsibility for the front-end.

    As some people will always be stronger in some areas than others; Jann more fascist with HTML me good with Javascript and familiar with Java/JSP etc.

    Plus I think I like the difference of opinions as if you have to justify why something is being done then it helps clarify it in your own mind (reduces the “well I like it” mentality).

    It was also quite good when we did have someone to mentor too though you are right management don’t really factor it in and you end up doing stuff yourself or even doing the crappy stuff ‘cos you want to be fair and end up divvying the interesting stuff to other members of the team!

    Though when you do get someone crappy on the team it is a nightmare having to carry them.

    A lot of the projects when it all went a bit out where mainly because of dodgy management (Ipamena?) and badly written (if at all) specs from people with no technical knowledge.

    Its changed a bit now. We have proper scoping phases and everything. OK not all projects but its getting more common now and more organised.

  2. PS if you do have a good team where you are aware of everyones strengths and weaknesses then you can trust others.

  3. Oh yeah and whenever anybody says “There’s no I in team” point out that there is a M E in it!

  4. Now I’ve read that essay…errrmm.

    That example of it would’ve taken ages to decide on a paper colour would be down to someone not taking it in hand and just saying “for gods sake choose a colour!!” thats an example of decision by committee (something I really detest) not team work!

    At Uni I had some friends who had to work with someone who basically did all their work for them, they all got A’s but gained no useful knowledge, plus got the piss taken out of them.

    When I say all the work for them I mean they said that they would assemble it all in a single doc and they found that the person had changed it. Now that’s dishonest of that person.

    I used to go caving and not working with the team could quite realistically result in people being dead.

    Having said all that I can do and have worked alone and it it is quite rewarding doing it your own way but life is compromise apart from whne you are absolutely right and if you are then you should be capable of persuading others if not then maybe you were wrong. errrm.

  5. Working in teams is fine just as long as things are done my way!

  6. You left all those comments without even reading the initial article? THAT is a PM mentality. 🙂

    Part of the problem for me is that I want to be nice and I don’t know how to point out somebody’s faults without hurting their feelings. Case in point: I had to do a group project on Stanley Kubrick on one of my college film classes. There were four of us, and we each analyzed a different film of his. Then two guys were responsible for splicing together the film clips and powerpoint presentation, while me and another guy put the four reports together and added biographical information. My partner couldn’t write for shit. I mean, we’re talking basic spelling and grammar. Repeating things and writing like a second-grader. The thing is, he was also a bigtime athlete and he basically didn’t give a shit anyway. So what do I do? Do I point out every error to him so he can fix it? In the end I just told him that I’d “clean things up” and make our two sections “seamless”, but in reality I basically ended up rewriting as much as I could and leaving some of his less awkward sentences so he wouldn’t get offended. The point is, we couldn’t have turned it in in his state. The teacher would’ve laughed at us.

    That’s the kind of team I dislike. The kind where people are picked arbitrarily, and success on the project is at times completely out of my own hands. A good team, like you said, is one where everyone is aware of everyone else’s (and their own) strengths and weakness, and everyone has a clearly defined role. I’m sure when you went caving you weren’t trusting your life into some random newbie’s hands. It’s someone that you know you can trust.

    My point is just that in my entire life, I think I’ve been on about three good teams. If you say the company’s changed, that sounds great. I’m gonna take that with a grain of salt though. I only ever met one PM there who put any thought into how the people on his team worked together (as opposed to “I need four ASPers, two HTMLers, I don’t care who”). He’d even solicit opinions on who’d be good to add to the team. And he’s one of the ones they fired! (Of course, they hired him back.) Just makes me think that things can’t have changed that much in four months.

  7. Well my initial comments were a response to what you said so its not too bad. And don’t call me a PM its almost as bad as calling me a BA!! 🙂

    Hmm yes I see what you mean. Maybe I’ve been slightly lucky in that even though Ipamena was rubbish the team was quite good and on the AA the one crappy one was moved on relatively sharpish and in the main the PM’s were OK and listened to us.

    I also know what you mean about certain people who were fired and it was like WHAT! Why? All I’m saying is that the structure is getting better and the more I know about the more I can stand up to PM’s and say Oi! No!

    I’ve even heard PM’s say who do you reccommend etc though some have still said right how many xType developers do we need when throwing people at aproject just does not work, Mythical Man Month again.

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