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This chapter is from the book

Building Your Team

A team is more than a group of individuals on a project organization chart—a team has to be built. Team building means actively helping people to succeed and dealing with people as individuals, not as replaceable units. Taking a diverse group of people, and then getting them to work together—that's team building!

People have a tendency to see the project in terms of their own skills, background, or role. The challenge is valuing the person's uniqueness, and then aligning that with the team's goals. The goal of your team building is an effective team where team members significantly relate to each other to accomplish shared objectives.

Here are a few characteristics of effective teams. Team members

  • Share common goals.

  • Enjoy working together.

  • Have commitment to achieve their goals.

  • Are different people concentrating on a common effort.

  • Have high team morale and spirit.

  • Show exceptional creativity.

  • Have a degree of competition and conflict.

  • Are interdependent.

An effective team is one where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!

Creating Your Team Culture

Team building isn't an item on a project plan or a one-time event. Effective team building is a continuous process that starts as soon as the team is assembled—you have to create your team. There is some front-loaded activity as you might instigate a project kick-off meeting that sets the tone for the rest of the project. The project kick-off meeting is where introductions are made, the vision is explained, and goals agreed upon. It might also be the forum to discuss roles, but in XP these are fairly dynamic and change throughout the project.

The chance of any formal team building activities for the team is remote, so you'll need to integrate them into the overall project. Whatever forms your team building takes, it will need at least the following:

  • Clear objectives and agreed goals

  • Openness and healthy confrontation

  • Support and trust

  • Sound practices

  • Appropriate leadership

  • Regular reviews

  • Individual development

  • Sound intragroup relationships

Who will be on your team? You will not always have the pick of the bunch and, if XP is new to your company, seasoned veterans will be hard to find. Rather than look for a prescription of what steps you should take in team building, be aware of the human and unspoken aspects of your team. Keep your ears and eyes open, get a sense of the atmosphere and the culture, this will aid in building that "jell" you seek. As a leader, you might call yourself "coach," but titles should be held lightly and you will need to prove yourself just as much as any rookie.

It's not reasonable to expect that team building will consist of a few pats on the back and a dozen doughnuts. If you're aware of the barriers to team development, you avert disaster before it strikes. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Differing outlooks, priorities, interests, and judgments

  • Role conflicts

  • Unclear project organization

  • Lack of team definition

  • No team input into personnel selection

  • Poor leader credibility

  • Lack of team member commitment

  • Communication problems

  • Lack of senior management support

When you look at your team do you see developers, engineers, and programmers or do you see influencers, creators, and comedians. Understanding what technical skills your team members have is easy, but when you're team building it helps to see beyond skills and toward roles. Let's separate the roles in which people function into constructive and destructive. Table 7.2 lists these roles for us:

Table 7.2 Team Member Roles

Constructive Roles

Destructive Roles

Initiators—"Let's do this..."

Aggressor—Criticizes and deflates the status of others.

Information seekers—"Don't we have some better information?"

Blocker—Rejects the views of others.

Information givers—"My experience is..."

Withdrawer—Holds back and will not participate.

Encouragers—"That was a great help..."

Recognition seeker—Seeks attention by controlling discussions.

Clarifiers—"I believe we are saying..."

Topic jumper—Continually changes the subject.

Harmonizers—"I believe we are all saying the same thing..."

Dominator—Tries to take over the discussion.

Gatekeeper—Helps others participate: "We haven't heard from..."

Devil's advocate—Brings up alternative viewpoints. Can be positive or negative.


Team members will quite possibly function in either constructive or destructive roles from time-to-time. This is quite natural, but the important thing is being aware of patterns of behavior.

Motivating Your Team

After, you've created your team's culture you'll want to make sure that you nurture and cultivate motivation. Team building won't be completely effective until the team members are motivated to do the work required. One motivator is the overall value or importance of the project; working on a worthwhile project will lift the morale of the team. Conversely, building software that the team knows is destined for the scrap heap after a year will not motivate anyone! The synergy of the team is elevated to another level once the value of the project is fully established in their minds. This kind of group or team motivation helps the process of pulling the team together into a unit. Your role if you're a leader is to clearly express the value of the team's work. This isn't a one-time deal and you'll want to reaffirm how worthwhile the project is, which doesn't mean announcing how important the software is every chance you get! Instead, feedback your customer's positive comments about the team's direction; describe the part the software plays in the customer's broader plans. Here are some simple steps you can take towards motivating the team:

  • Present the project as a challenge—describe the project in terms of the unique or special nature of the work (never been done before, and so forth).

  • Give regular feedback—Make sure the team is kept informed about the projects progress, include customer comments.

  • Use rewards—senior management should reward the extra work the team is putting in.

  • Encourage professional development—Allow and encourage team members to attend conferences and specialized training events.

  • Provide a good working environment—Create a project space that reflects the nature of the project, allow relaxation of corporate standards where applicable and supply food!

We can summarize our motivator list with this comment: Use the carrot not the stick! Managers that threaten, trick, manipulate, or cajole workers might get short-term results, but the low team morale will soon cancel out these gains.

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