Just as there is more than one way to solve a problem, so there is also more than one way to build and manage a team. How do you know what criteria to follow during the selection process and after to effectively build the best team and team experience possible? Listen in to episode 33 as Arsalan brings back two expert panelists, David Gatti, and Edward Stull, to tackle the heart of team building and the best approaches to use.
While David and Edward come from two different backgrounds, their take on the topic may surprise you. David has a background as a systems administrator and later transitioned into a management role where he found his calling. Edward Stull has worn many hats over the life of his career that gives him a unique perspective on the topic.
In the end, you ultimately must find what works best for you and your team. So, if you’d like a little insight on this hot topic, step right over and listen in. Feel free to leave us a comment afterward if you’d like. We’d love to hear from you.
Edward Stull’s Bio:
Edward Stull is a user experience (UX) designer and researcher in Columbus, Ohio. He has held positions in large traditional agencies, mid-size system integration firms, small design studios, as well as a one-person consulting practice. He has worn many hats during his career. Thus, his background grants an uncommon perspective into how various teams understand, practice and sell UX. When he is not working, he is usually hiking.
David Gatti’s Bio:
David Gatti began his career in IT as a Systems Administrator. He learned how to code in PHP out of boredom, and made some simple internal tools to help him while managing the company network. He later became a blogger and wrote about mobile technologies before the iPhone came into existence and PDAs had cellular modems. David also wrote the CMS for the website itself when WordPress was first starting. Then, he began working as a web developer for a company that did simple Facebook games.
After his initial experience, David ported a Windows Mobile app to Android 2.3. He then became a Brand Manager for a mobile game company and a Marketing Director for another company and at that company – he transitioned to Developer Relations Manager and worked for two companies with this title. It was a job that he fell in love with.
But, while hunting for his next opportunity, he struggled to find the right company. Out of frustration he created Simpe.li (simply) so he could keep doing what he does best – Development Relations Management done right.
Episode Highlights and Show Notes:
Arsalan: Hi everyone. Today are bringing to you a really good discussion. The topic of the discussion is how to build a great team. Our panelists today are David Gatti and Edward Stull. How are you guys?
David: I’m doing great, thank you for asking.
Edward: I’m doing fine.
Arsalan: So, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you guys and why are you interested in this topic?
David: My name is David. I call myself a tech evangelist now because I like to explain stuff and in particular about technology. My experience with this topic is that I’ve managed teams at my previous jobs and I’ve hired people, developers especially. So, I think I might have something interesting to say about this stuff.
Edward: I’m Edward Stull and I am a user experience consultant here in Columbus, Ohio. Although I work independently now, I’ve been a part of large teams as well as managed very fairly large teams. I think it’s such an intriguing topic just because it’s my belief that if you can have a really good team, anything that you end up encountering if it’s going to be a bad project, client, or situation, a good team will make it tolerable. If you have a good project and you have a great team. It makes the project wonderful. So, it’s a pretty vital part of any project.
Arsalan: Having a good team is good for morale. You want everybody to want to work together because when they work together, they communicate and communication is so important. Without communication, projects fail, everybody’s down, and people leave the company a lot.
Arsalan: So, what you’re feeling on building great teams? Has it been something that you enjoy doing, or has it been hard? What is your overall take on this?
David: I think it’s fun because the mindset that you have to have you need to understand the other person who is on the team has feelings as well. You need to understand if that person is happy or unhappy and try to determine by their body language what might be happening. For me, this is the most interesting part because it is the most intriguing. It’s almost like being a detective and trying to understand what is happening.
Edward: Playing off of what David was just talking about, I would have to second all of his points. Building a team is generally a fun exercise. Regardless of what size teams are, they amplify whatever is going on. So, if you have something that is successful, then it’s great being successful with the really large team because each personality is going to amplify that success. But you could say the same in the opposite as well.
Edward: If things are going south, the more team members you have, who are not feeling great about things, the more that gets amplified as well. The general notion is that if you start off with a good group of folks and you can lead them to success then it can be a whole lot of fun. But it’s vital that you manage a group of people like that. Well, because things can go south pretty quickly, sometimes.
Arsalan: So, you’re talking about working with good folks and that means being very careful about who you hire during the selection process. What kind of people. Would you hire?
Edward: One of the critical parts about when you do hiring is that you have a lot of bias anytime you meet any individual. In a working situation, you generally have two different sets of metrics. Can this person do this job? Are they a complete psychopath? The notion is that everything else is really biased. You want to make sure that you are empathetic with your colleagues and you treat them with respect. If they can do the job, then there’s a pretty good chance that things will work out in the end.
David: I want to say one thing about that. What do you think when a lot of companies try to hire someone and they focus a lot on the skills and don’t focus on whether or not that person is good for the team? From my experience, sometimes people will give you test that you have to finish. Some companies will not hire you if you score lower on the test. But, the test was building a way so it’s tested on what you could code. So, you could have written the worst code ever, but still, pass for whatever the reason and have the company hire you.
Arsalan: I have an opinion on this matter and I think Edward might as well. Let me just say what I think about these automated testing suites. Often you want to hire the best of the best and you don’t want to look at any of the rest. So, you want to whittle down the list of the top 5%. So this test serves as an automated way to accomplish that.
Arsalan: Humans are not involved with these, yet this is the criteria that we use for selecting people. It’s just a way of not having to look at everybody. It’s an example of us being lazy, not having enough time, or not caring enough to build a great team and go through people’s profiles to get a broader spectrum of people and not depending on one thing or another.
Arsalan: Sometimes it’s not an automated test that you have to go through. Sometimes it’s an in-person test. The tests are supposed to be an objective way of finding out who’s the best, but that’s actually not true. Most of the testing and the interviews and everything that goes into the interviews is not really related to the work that people do. They don’t really test their interest personal skills, communication, or anything else.
David: So, what do you think guides good criteria? I remember one situation when I was hiring at a game developer company. I was responsible for checking the person’s behavioral responses to see if they are behaving the right way. A good friend of mine was testing the person’s skills. So, he was always very interested in people who fit well into the company culture.
David: I remember when this one guy came in for an interview. He was off the chain. He showed us this game that he built. His skill level was amazing, but when my friend asked him which part of this engine he was most proud of, he had no answer. So we asked him why he designed this object in this particular way. His response was that this was the only way. It was almost like he was too smart for the average person like he didn’t compute that someone else might not understand that this is the way that you do something. Having someone like that on the team would make the team worse because he would not be able to properly share his knowledge with the rest of the team. It’s wonderful that he had skills but you also need to be able to communicate those skills with our other people.
Arsalan: You don’t want any rock stars. I’m not really a big fan of rock stars.
David: What do you mean by rock stars?
Arsalan: Rockstar developers. A rock star developer will come with his groupies and his attitude and all the stuff that goes with rock stars. Rock stars are not people who I would put up as role models. A rock star developer is a term that I get a lot and that people throw around a lot. It rubs me the wrong way.
Edward: You know, I wonder if it is ultimately the way that the team is managed. I worked with some folks who you could consider rock star kind of people and their particular aptitudes. But, if you take that same person and move them to one organization and they’ll be successful, and in another, they won’t. I often think about it as this management structure. You have to determine if they have the appropriate attitude to exercise something and then whether they have the authority. For example, can they actually do the things that they know? Also, are they accountable for it? You can take somebody is really good at doing something and who has the authority, but if they’re not accountable that I think it gets more towards what David was saying. If they truly believe that that is the only way of doing something and nobody’s ever going to call them on it, and that’s going to be a problem. But, if they’re being managed appropriately someone can show them that there are many ways of tackling a problem. As long as that person is not exercising their opinions on the rest of the team that’s fine and that person will simply learn.
Arsalan: Okay, so now we have a way of hiring people. We want to make sure that people can communicate, people can get along and all this is standard. We want good people on our team to contribute to the team spirit. The question is what is this team spirit that we’re trying to get to? Eventually, we will have differences and we will have people with different backgrounds and different people. A lot of people try to create team spirit by doing team retreats, whether it is once a week, once a month, once a quarter, or once a year. That is how they bond. You think that stuff works?
David: I have mixed opinions on that. I will let Edward go first.
Edward: I think the good part of team retreats is that it allows people to see the good part of the basic humanity of the people that they are working with. Someone is not simply a developer. They are Arsalan or they are David. That just happens to be what you do as a profession, not who you are as a human being. So, I think team retreats could be very good in that way.
Edward: I think sometimes you get this weird, manufactured consent. It’s like everybody’s going to go out and have a team retreats in your being forced to have a good time. That kind of stuff can tend to feel in organic and awkward, but you also have to be cognizant of how you’re spending other people’s time. Different companies have different policies on this. I almost think that nobody minds a team retreat that happens during work hours because they’re being paid. But if it’s just a social hour that people are being forced to go to after work, you can get into this precarious feel where you are being forced to work off the clock.
David: Yes, I also have experienced something like this where the CEO wanted to go after hours to have a drink or whatever and some of the team wants to go home at five because they have a life. Then, the CEO will look at them like they are worse than everybody else because they don’t want to bond with the team. That kind of situation is very bad, in my opinion.
Edward: Yes, I agree. That’s why those kinds of things should be only optional. One example is that while I drink, I have colleagues who don’t. So it would be unfair to have everybody go out for a beer when maybe one person in the group is a recovering alcoholic. Having everybody go out to dinner once in a while can be a nice time but I think there’s an art to it. People tend to know when they’re being coerced into doing something and when they are being given an opportunity to meet another human and converse with them. Almost nobody minds meeting someone and having a conversation. But if it also takes under the umbrella some force work thing, then I think you have to handle the situation differently.
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