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Managing Software Teams for Results: Achieving Performance Through Effective Collaboration

Your developers might be on the same floor, but are they on the same page? Jim and Michele McCarthy present one important aspect of their software team management approach for achieving high-performance collaboration: Check In.
This article is excerpted from Jim and Michele's book, Software for Your Head: Core Protocols for Creating and Maintaing Shared Vision.
This chapter is from the book

The Elements of Check In


Whether the members of a team are dispersed across the world or crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in rows of cubicles, distance is always the central issue among collaborators. The remedy for distance is presence.

Of course, it is easier to spot distance-related difficulties in a geographically dispersed team, and people are more likely to attribute team problems to miles rather than minds; regardless of geography, the primary task with any team is that of surmounting distance. The distance that must be surmounted, though, is the psychological distance (or the "headgap"1) between people rather than the amount of physical space between their bodies.

The aggregate headgap is the big cost of working in groups. This means that a psychologically close team that is physically remote is more desirable than the reverse. Team performance typically has less to do with the collaborators' physical proximity than with psychological, emotional, and intellectual proximity—that is, the individuals' degree of engagement2 with one another and with their work. In The Core-adopting team, efficiently facilitating team members' presence is the function of the CheckIn pattern. Consistent adherence to this pattern creates a foundation for the team's greatness.

A team that uses the CheckIn pattern and its associated protocols will be more aware of team presence than teams that don't. A presence-sensitive team will be more likely to address and consequently surmount the challenges presented by its presence-related issues. Team members will be able to exploit the opportunities that emerge when their focused optimization of aggregate presence works. Presence-insensate teams will continue to address the wrong issues. Because presence trumps distance, and distance is the enemy of collaboration, teams using CheckIn will prevail.


The CheckIn protocol provides two major components for establishing and developing high-performance collaboration: an enlistment procedure and an interpersonal connectivity process. The former (re)affirms each individual's commitment to a body of proven efficiency-enhancing behaviors. The latter provides individuals with an opportunity to efficiently reveal their personal states.

CheckIn begins with a rich, interactive roll call. This is its connective component. Conventionally, a roll call provides a way to determine who is physically present. With the CheckIn protocol, each team member can also disclose3 the character and the disposition of his presence. While an ordinary roll call asks, "Who is present?", the CheckIn pattern also asks, "What's going on with you?" Each individual CheckIn culminates in a brief statement (that is, "I'm in") that renews the individual's commitment to seek efficiency and to "play by the rules" of The Core.4


Occasionally, an individual will take a break from the intense levels of productive engagement required by The Core. The CheckOut protocol makes such breaks possible and minimizes any disruption to the rest of the team.


The Passer protocol serves as a safety valve for the entirety of The Core protocols. It provides a means for any individual to decline to participate in a Core protocol or process without being questioned by the other team members.

With few exceptions, any team member can pass on any activity associated with The Core protocols at any time, for any reason, without extra scrutiny.


Connection is a pattern that describes the process and benefits of mutual presence.


There are reasons that the higher degrees of individual presence aren't routinely found in teams that do not use The Core. The attitudes and behaviors we have seen repeatedly are captured in three presence-related antipatterns: TooEmotional, NoHurtFeelings, and



When you encounter intense emotion at work, you often feel that someone is being too emotional. This condition usually arises when normal, everyday emotion, after being too long repressed, suddenly erupts. When emotions are processed in this delayed, bursty, and unpredictable way, the behavior that results often is, or seems, ineffective or self-destructive. The problem, though, is not that the person is too emotional. He is not emotional enough.


This common antipattern describes the bad decisions and ineffective steps that people take to avoid telling one another the truth.


Tolerance is not always a virtue. Behaviors that don't work should not be tolerated. But they are.


CheckIn depends on several other patterns also covered in Part I.


The Team = Product pattern identifies and mediates group problems by comparing and contrasting the characteristics of the team with the characteristics of its products. Applying the Team = Product pattern supplies ample and effective team diagnostics.


The Self-Care pattern describes the desirable effects that accrue to a team when each person on it is responsible for taking care of one person and one person only: himself.


The ThinkingandFeeling pattern describes the benefits and delineates the surprisingly challenging practice of thinking and feeling simultaneously.


The Pretend pattern identifies the importance of experimenting with beliefs and performing thought experiments as a way to discover effectiveness.


The GreatnessCycle pattern identifies a desirable group value system and describes in practical terms some of the behaviors that embody those values (smarts, presence, integrity, conflict, passion, and greatness). The sequence of GreatnessCycle is laid bare, and the pattern depicts how the application of one value leads to the next.

When smart individuals intensify their presence (a requisite characteristic of smartness), their resulting expressions of integrity lead to conflict. Conflict, in turn, will tend to line people up behind what they care about, which is, at heart, the definition of passion. The maturing of passion creates the conditions that allow for great results.

It is unlikely that a team will consistently attain excellence, and get its shot at greatness, without experiencing this cycle.

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