BT

InfoQ Homepage Articles People Re-Engineering How To’s: The Magic of Teaming

People Re-Engineering How To’s: The Magic of Teaming

Bookmarks

Key Takeaways

  • People Re-engineering (PRE) adopts an energy-based model for effective teaming, whereby a team is not a team until it has a synergetic effect, meaning that the output of the team should exceed the sum of outputs of individual members. 
  • In PRE, a team is basically a source of useful energy delivered  to the clientele as value from a successful product/service.
  • This physics-based model tangibly redefines roles.  Team members are positively (or negatively) contributing agents and heir process is a collaborative reaction, releasing their useful energy as products/services. 
  • Three organizational pillars are needed to support PRE’s effective teaming model:  team autonomy, effective conflict management skills and diversity management.
  • The model enhances the team process as it provides a clear exposure of people behavior/contribution as negative or positive; it reduces mediocrity in evaluating people performance and it adds a more vivid human flavor to the team relationships.

In the first article of this series, I presented an overview of People Re-engineering as a complete strategy to free a software organization from the monotony and mediocrity that actually hide behind software people’s job dissatisfaction, and then redirect their energy towards a vivid and vigorous continuous process of improvement. This job dissatisfaction hides behind the job churn that is becoming endemic in organizations which have not yet developed their human capital strategies.

Then I went on to elaborate a bit on the how to’s that turn the concept into factual benefits for the implementing organization, one per article. I call these the Threads of the strategy, meaning "those lines of continuous action that make it a reality in the life of an organization and its people". Here is a list of the threads (and links to article), or how to’s, that have been covered so far:

In this article, I discuss the third of the five threads of action comprising PRE: The Energetic Teaming Thread.

Let me first remind the reader that PRE’s perspective to teaming is methodology-neutral.

Its target is basically to furnish a good platform for cohesive teaming to successfully deliver under any particular methodology adopted for the development process.

As one more reminder, I’ll be using PRE for "People Re-engineering" throughout, and "he" or "she" alternatingly when referring to people.

Finding That "Magic" in Teaming

PRE’s perspective to teaming is best summarized by this abstract from the second article in the series:

Teaming is not just a term for "working together peacefully and productively". It actually represents a solution on its own to some of our daily chores. It has a secret called Synergy, which should be "burnt" into the team members’ mindsets. I use an Energy Model to visualize The Secret of Teaming and instill that in the minds of team members. It works better when the people build a clearer mental image of teaming and its benefits as a phenomenal change to their work lives, and maybe lives in general.

With much experience in the industry, I’ve witnessed work groups of techies, thereafter called teams, then called synergetic teams. These terms in italics changed from people just working together (in groups), to co-working with a shared will to win (that’s "teams"), to working together with some magic on top, called synergy! That’s actually the entry point to teaming under PRE. Let’s take a closer look at the term before we recruit it. Here is a definition for this kind of magic from Oxford Dictionary:

Synergy: The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

And here again is the Origin as indicated by the same source: Mid-19th century: from Greek sunergos ‘working together’, from sun- ‘together’ + ergon ‘work’.

That’s exactly wherein the magic of teaming hides; when the output exceeds the input!

Well, let’s put it straight: no team is effective, unless it is synergetic. Teams that produce the exact sum of work of their individuals lack this extra bit which we should call Team Effect, or synergy. This is actually the teaming contract under PRE.

PRE calls this the Second Law of Teaming. So what’s the first, and why?

The First Law of Teaming

Work ("ergon" in the Greek origin of "synergy" as we saw) is all about energy. That is exactly how teamers should see the bigger picture of their team: a source of value delivered to the customer. In their perspective, this "value" is another form of the useful work or energy they pour into their "dreams" to finally become products or services to a customer, delivered through their organization. The customer then returns the organization with revenue/profit, which the organization finally returns to the team with good perks and a prosperous job environment, hopefully. This is the energy analogy that every team member has to perceive for deeper understanding of her role, as we will elaborate on shortly. The analogy will have important consequences, or corollaries, that we will discuss in few minutes.

Figure 1 depicts this energy analogy of teaming process under PRE.

Figure 1 – The Team Energy Model

Thus, we can rephrase the PRE perspective to the team as:

A team is basically a source of useful energy delivered finally to the clientele of a company in the form of value as some successful products or service.

From a PRE perspective, this is actually the First Law of Teaming. If you combine it with the aforementioned rule of synergy (PRE’s Second Law of Teaming), you reach a complete energy analogy, or mental image, for teamers to conceive, serving the purpose of leveraging cohesiveness, productivity and stability in teams.

Corollaries!

Building this physics-based model of teaming in the minds of the co-workers is not just a matter of fun. The benefit goes farther into formulating some sort of clear and vivid performance contract, extracted from this true science-based resemblance of the team as a source of energy to the community around it: be that the provider company or its clientele, via successful and useful products and hence profits. Here are a couple of corollaries that complete the picture in the minds of the teamers.

Once we think of energy output, we must also think of the agents that will somehow react to produce such outcome. Agents here are nothing but us, guys, the team’s "people". This entails that every "agent" must ensure tangible contribution to the output. Some agents are energy sources in the process, contributing positively to the output, while others will act like energy sinks, meaning they reduce total output through negative behavior. By the way, no "zeros" are allowed here. No, or limited contribution, makes the agents become energy sinks. We are all here to contribute, not to sit and watch!

Having said "react", that takes us to a second corollary. The "reaction" here is the collaboration between the agents. This must go in one direction that of releasing more energy from the agents’ into the team’s output. Reaction should produce a gain, and never a loss.

A third corollary, and maybe the most interesting part, to me at least, is about losses in a teaming process, which is nothing but energy that doesn’t contribute to the team’s output. The most tangible form of loss in a team comes as disputes, or conflicts, be that technical or personal. Our team "reaction" must have proper mechanisms to reduce losses, or prevent them completely.

Fourthly, and to enhance this energy producing interaction, we need the right catalyst. Here is whatever leadership role you may like to fit in. This kind of leadership will provide the team with better conditions to "react" without getting immersed in the detailed process.

To summarize the process in its own lingo: team members should see themselves as positively contributing agents in a collaborative reaction that releases their useful energy as their teams’ outcome. They should avoid any behavioral and/or technical losses that reduce the efficiency of the process. Some catalyst should always be around to instigate and augment the reaction. This is where leadership will contribute to ensure that synergetic effect in the process.

As I said, by introducing this model to the teamers, and using its lingo among the team, you give them a more vivid and clear contract describing their role as a team, after which you can look out for the positive impact on team behavior. In my personal experience, especially with Y-Generation, the younger the people, the easier it is to spread out the lingo and the more effective the impact of the model is.

The Pillars of Teaming - PRE Perspective

With PRE energy model furnishing the mental image of a distinctive teaming process under PRE, let’s proceed to the pillars that any organization should fortify to get the most out of its teaming.

The first pillar is autonomy. Since the advent of research on small team behavior in the development cycles of new products, together with new related disciplines of applied science like Positive Psychology, autonomy has evolved not only as one of the most necessary ingredients of team motivation, but no less importantly as an instigator of Knowledge Generation Cycles (KGC) inside a team. Autonomy in our model is fostered by the catalyst (the leader). He is the one who can stimulate the process of creative thinking without directly intervening with the reaction itself. Actually, a long list of household names have contributed to research that led to elevate the role of autonomy in business. I’d refer the reader to a great summary on the subject in Daniel Pink’s book Motivation. There you can find a very concise but rich treatment of the subject and the research that led to it.

To be honest, many software managers who are still haunted by the old management paradigms make it hard to achieve autonomy. I think I’ve given some answer to the way autonomy can be seamlessly incorporated into the leadership process under PRE in the previous article of the series, introducing the leadership thread of PRE.

A very important direct offshoot of autonomy is continuous learning. With proper support and coaching, autonomous teams tend to act like, in part, small research units or at least self-studying groups while working on new problems and/or techniques. In my personal experience, I witnessed a great improvement in the job satisfaction and intimacy in teams that had this opportunity, with a definite positive impact on their quality, productivity and stability.

The Second Pillar is conflict management. I’d prefer to call it "disagreement management", in fact. The thing is that we differ in the way we think, and that can cause disagreements on some development decisions along the way, as alternatives for solutions are encountered. Unless disagreements are properly handled on time, they can easily turn into conflicts, which exhaust our energy and represent a loss in our model. In my opinion, a team’s efficiency will drop significantly with time in the absence of a pre-settled disagreement management policy. That is because disagreements can become chronic inside a team unless handled promptly and properly. They can even extend the technical circle to the personal one, which considerably degrades the team’s output. I’ve personally witnessed many examples of that happening.  

Guiding the team to formulate a balanced compromise to reach such a unified policy is one of the major roles of mature leadership (the catalyst). Notice that this policy should complement, not contradict, any standard policies set by a company for similar purposes. Its role is to cover daily working chores that are usually technical in nature in their majority. The team is free to formulate such a "professional contract" to become its reference, or manifesto if you like, in case disagreements of any type should arise.

The third pillar is managing diversity, or more precisely the way the team may perceive it. In a broad sense, diversity can come in many aspects, starting from culture, beliefs and ideologies, down to technical schools of thought. In many cases today, teams can be formulated with a good degree of diversity across the borders be it geographical, ideological or whatever. In my experience, using the energy model of teaming, when accepted by the team, is a proven way to get more pragmatic and cross all borders to one unified target that is success. In addition, having well formulated rules of disagreement (as we will see in a minute) provides a first line of defense against any negative consequences from diversity. In my opinion, this well "managed" diversity may lead to vitality in thinking, and hence creativity. We need some diversity in "agents" to get the reaction started! The finer the team "culture", the more positive the diversity; let’s put it that simple. But, if you can’t build that culturally matured team, keep it straight and reduce diversity in agents if you can. This can be the case unless we are obliged to a certain degree of diversity for some global business reason.

Let’s put the pillars back into our energy model: we release more energy from our agents through autonomy, reduce energy loss through proper and prompt management of disagreements, and finally manage diversity to augment the reaction for more energy and creativity put into the product, if we are culturally up to that and we actually should be.

A Look at The Gain

The lore of our industry in teaming is traditional about productivity. Well, we have got it through sharpening the focus on energy, no problem. But what other gains would PRE provide through its adopted model for the teaming process? Let’s answer the question in the rest of this treatise.

First of all, the PRE model for teaming comes with a sort of "self-discovery" feature built into it. Every teamer is transparently seen in terms of her contribution to the energy level of her teammates, as well as the final output of the team as a whole. Thus, the following questions arise: how does he contribute not only to the team product, but to the team morale by being present among her teammates, which ultimately affects their energy on a human ground? Is she an opinionated type who causes tangible losses to the team energy? Everybody can see and judge his contribution, so do his teammates.

Another point, which is a good part of my personal passion in all that I do in this business, is to isolate mediocrity from the team practice as much as possible. Actually, whenever you talk about "energy", mediocrity will automatically withdraw! They are mutually exclusive. It’s true that we will continue to use those mythical hours, days, months (The Mythical Man month by Fred Brooks), attendance and absenteeism to quantitatively express what every teamer contributes, until maybe some "team energy unit" replaces that, but these measurements are now complemented by an energy perspective in what we do at work. I’ve seen that to be far more a vivid description for what we do and contribute in teaming than the dreary clerical way of describing it alone, bringing with it a tangible improvement to the wellbeing of the team members.

A third point comes with the new perspective PRE presents for Productivity. The fact is that PRE turns absolute productivity into "energy contribution", which is resultant of one’s technical productivity and her human presence in the team, combined. To explain, there were always cases when a team member was really good at what he does as an individual, however for human reasons his presence among his colleagues did not produce the synergetic effect that we hoped. He may even, for some personal untreated communication problem, say, have some loss when it comes to interacting with others. Other cases reported included teamers who were not as good technically, but their presence as teammates who supported others caused the total energy level of the team reaction to increase. I’ve witnessed both situations, and maybe some of you have. In short, one’s contribution in a team is more than just her technical competence. The human factor plays a role when we consider energy and synergy.

In general, my experience in this treatment for teaming under PRE is quite encouraging. Things become transparent, the work environment leaves a good deal of mediocrity behind, and productivity gets one more dimension, a human one, to determine the true impact on a team’s output. This adds to the wellbeing of the teamers, hence their quality, productivity and job loyalty.

In Conclusion

In this article, I’ve tried to show PRE’s perspective to one of the topmost critical concepts in the development process: teaming. As is the case with the other threads, the aim is to present a tangible and more vivid model of our people to get a sense for what they do more, undertake its challenges gallantly, and probably do what they do more enjoyably.

At this point, with the so-far published content covering three out of the five threads of PRE, we are left with two very critical ones we need for the whole experience to work; these are: executive and decision makers engagement and continuous monitoring and steering. I hope to get the chance to complete the picture for the readers who are engaged with the PRE experience.

About the Author

Medhat Sabry is a Software Development Consultant, Speaker and Writer addressing the development community over his own self-constructed web-based initiative called Techstamina, together with other social media and professional networks channels. Staying there in the heart of software delivery process for nearly four decades, Medhat had a sound exposure to the emerging challenges in the development industry that formulated his passion to help developers and companies build their professional stamina to take the ever-growing pressures and challenges in today’s software market.

 

Rate this Article

Adoption
Style

Educational Content

Hello stranger!

You need to Register an InfoQ account or or login to post comments. But there's so much more behind being registered.

Get the most out of the InfoQ experience.

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p

Community comments

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p

Allowed html: a,b,br,blockquote,i,li,pre,u,ul,p

BT

Is your profile up-to-date? Please take a moment to review and update.

Note: If updating/changing your email, a validation request will be sent

Company name:
Company role:
Company size:
Country/Zone:
State/Province/Region:
You will be sent an email to validate the new email address. This pop-up will close itself in a few moments.