Sunday 10 October 2021

People Skills In A Software Development Team


In my opinion the old stereo type of expert developers being left on their own to solve the big problems isn't the way that robust software should be developed.

As often as not when you hear a story about hero developers who are often arrogant and / or jaded about their experiences and are not open to collaborating. That doesn't make for a nice workplace, or sustainable product development.

If you Google'd "no assholes" you will probably be presented with a long list of articles and blog posts describing how organisations have come to the realisation that it is in their interests to not hire or tolerate individuals who are not team players - even if they are the best in their area of expertise. (NB: In this context I don't mean "team player" in the sense of being pushovers who just do what they are told).

This is yet another post of me trying to remind myself about what I've been doing to work well within a team - a nice refresher before I go into job interviews with their HR situational questions.

Empathy Is Key

In the heat of the moment it can be tempting to assume that a problem is somebody else's fault, or that another team doesn't care as much as we do. Most of the time that isn't really the case. Without knowing the wider context around when, why and how something came to be we really shouldn't assume the worst.

Sometimes the root of the problem will be me - like the time that I made a quick one line change to a block of code that I had been working on and when that change was deployed the service started to randomly stop connecting to a service that it was interacting with. I hadn't looked at the context around when that line of code was being called, so didn't notice that I was preventing connections from being closed. 🤦

Psychological Safety

I used to switch off when I first heard the term, "Psychological Safety" as it seemed like something leading to sitting around a campfire and singing Kumbaya.

Much later in my career I paid a litte bit more attention and realised that it is a very simple concept of how comfortable colleagues feel about working with eachother. I see it as being at ease with speaking your mind, knowing that nobody on the team with belittle your ideas, that you will be listened to and understood, and "there are no stupid questions".

One of the personal highlights of my career was on a spontaneous mini pub crawl that arose from having to be out of the office while movers were coming to relocate our equipment. The lunch and conversations were quite fun, but the thing that has really stuck in my mind was when we were walking between pubs and I mentioned to one of the senior members of another team that I felt like I was fitting in well after only a few weeks in the company, his response was "We like you, you ask intelligent questions".

Care, Respect, and Courtesy

I think this was a school motto, but I can't trace it back as that was over thiry years ago and some schools seem to chop and change their motto - and it's not really that important to know the origin story.

Anyway, lets consider each how term can be applied to the working environment.

I use the term "careful" a lot more than the term "care", mainly because I'm used to talking about solving technical problems and how we need to ensure that we don't lose data or make our systems unavailable for our users. This shows caring about the people that interact with the software that we're developing.

Alongside that, life tends to go much more smoothly when we are considerate to our colleagues, whether that means informing them in advance of upcoming changes, or checking in with them on Slack to understand how they are getting on with situations that arise in or out of the work setting. Not just a, "Get well soon" response if they have to take a sick day.

Respect and courtesy often go together, such as listening to what a person has to say without interrupting, and if there is something to challenge being polite enough to address the idea rather than the person who raised the idea. On my first full-on scrum team some of my German colleagues raised these sorts of manners as part of the team's agreed ways of working, and at the time I wasn't sure whether that needed to be said, however I noticed when that was missing from a team that I worked in later in my career and moved to correct that.

Obligation To Dissent

Obligation to dissent was another unusual term that I came across in a team ways of working discussion. In that context it meant that if you had a strong opinion or objection to something that the team was going to do then it was your responsibility to raise your concern and have it addressed.

This approach could be quite distructive on its own, and should be paired with something like ", but be willing to move forward with the team's agreed approach".

No comments:

Post a Comment