Merely adequate

The other day someone asked on our Slack channel: “what do you guys think is the perfect team formation?”. People started giving answers like: no Scrum Masters, no Project Managers, no middle management (yes, we are all developers).

But then a thought hit me: the perfect team is one with people that actually want to achieve something, no matter what their role is. It sounds naive and obvious, but it is something really hard to find. We immediately started to talk about the good teams we had been part of, how that project manager was so good, or that designer, or that sales person. And in fact it didn't matter their role, it was all about people and team synergy.

When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless. — Ed Catmull

It is not only about management, but good management can solve most of team problems

I have met some really bad managers over my career. But I also met bad developers and those were worse to deal with. You will always end up compensating for their bad work while still doing your own tasks. The quote below, taken from Patty McCord’s very inspirational article about Netflix HR represents that very well:

One day I was talking with one of our best engineers, an employee I’ll call John. Before the layoffs, he’d managed three engineers, but now he was a one-man department working very long hours. I told John I hoped to hire some help for him soon. His response surprised me. “There’s no rush — I’m happier now,” he said. It turned out that the engineers we’d laid off weren’t spectacular — they were merely adequate. John realized that he’d spent too much time riding herd on them and fixing their mistakes. “I’ve learned that I’d rather work by myself than with subpar performers,” he said.

It can be really frustrating when everybody knows someone is not a good fit for the company but still management doesn't do anything about it. The excuses are always the same: firing is bad for morale, team needs to be 100% focused now, we need to try different ways to approach the problem etc. To me, it is all a big, fat mistake.

You want to have people that actually want to work for your company and you want to make your good people happy. Why would you keep someone merely adequate around? Managers need to act immediately and they need to be aware of what is going on with their peers and their teams. Their main goal should always be to keep their people happy and inspired, keep creativity flowing.

Management is about letting go of your old power (the power to write great code or design an awesome feature yourself) and putting that into the hands of your team. It’s about enabling the people on your team and supporting them to do their very best work. And yeah, sometimes that will mean giving someone some feedback on their work or helping them think their way out of a jam, but those moments are in service of empowering them, not you. Your new power is hiring great people and removing roadblocks, not becoming one yourself. — @cap

How to change your company culture?

Let’s say you just sit and complain about bad employees — of course that is no good. Not only for the company’s sake, but mainly for your sanity.

There are different degrees of a merely adequate employee scenario. Sometimes it is something intrinsic in the company culture (Brazil’s public service comes to my mind). Sometimes it is just a bad seed on your team.

Be aware that if you want to change things you will have a hard time, because people will take it personally. On the workplace, sometimes we act like spoiled kids. We do not think about our product, or our company, or even our own team. We do not think about our colleagues and how we affect their lives and their work routine.

Here is a list of things I do when facing this situation:

  1. Talk openly to your colleague.
  2. Talk to your manager.
  3. Don’t take responsibility for everything. Don’t cover up anything.
  4. Always be on the move.
  5. Give up (yes, you can do that, and don't feel bad about it).

In conclusion, to all the good people out there, don't lose your faith. You are not alone and the truth is only a few professionals work on environments they find fully healthy or inspiring.

What you can do is try to change that scenario, one colleague/manager/employee at a time. And maybe you can start by yourself. Try to not be selfish about your work, keep your ego at the door and always look for creativity, no matter what your role is.


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