Build teams not superstars
Because nobody is better than everybody
We all have heroes that we look up to, people that inspire and impress us in equal amounts. It may be the lead guitarist from the rock band we still dream of touring with. Perhaps it’s the striker that scored the winning goal in the dying seconds of the cup final. We admire them because they are exceptional people doing extraordinary things. Men and women that have fire in their bellies and the world at their feet. They make us smile, they give us hope, and we feel empowered by their success.
In reality, our superstars are members of a finely-tuned team where everyone plays an important role. They will be first to insist that success comes from teamwork and not just individual effort. You don’t have to look far, for example, to find the talent and commitment that a world-class athlete possesses. Look a little deeper and you’re also likely to find a dietician, personal trainer, sports psychologist and other specialists that help them on their road to success.
I work in software development and software development is most definitely a team sport. It is the team that designs, builds and delivers working systems for our clients. It is the team that organises itself to do the right things at the right time. Making decisions should not depend on seniority, pulling rank or taking sides. Everyone simply helps everyone else to do the best job that they can. We are all human and we like to be appreciated. That’s fine as long as we don’t overlook anyone else or seek personal gain at the expense of others. It really is amazing what we can achieve when we’re not concerned with who takes the credit.
Isolating individuals for praise, or criticism, can be unfair and it’s not always objective. For example, is a low bug count the result of great development or poor testing? There will be times when people problems occur. In an open, self-empowered team, these issues often take care of themselves. You just have to trust everyone to do the right thing.
Occasionally, someone just doesn't fit in, no matter how hard they try or how much support you give them. If there’s nothing else that can be done, then the only option may be to move them elsewhere. When this happens, they will usually be the first to know that things aren't working out. Handle it sensitively and try to find a solution that suits everyone concerned.
There will always be people that outshine their team members in one area or another. Use this talent wisely, make sure everybody gains from their experience and expertise. If you have a truly indispensable team member then that’s often as much of a problem as it is a benefit.
When things go well, reward the whole team rather than specific individuals. When things go wrong, blame the process rather than the people. Learn from the experience and make the next time a little better than before. Recognise that the best work comes from a joint effort and you may well end up with an all-star team. After all, nobody is better than everybody.