I once worked with a Manager of Development who managed to create the best team I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Every day was a joy and I worked the hardest I ever had, just because I enjoyed this team so much and I never wanted to be the one to let the team down. We inspired each other, supported each other and laughed every day. Even our fights were funny. We had our problems and our frustrations but we had complete confidence that we could also find the solution to anything.
With great regret, I reached the day where I had to move on but before I left, I begged the manager to tell me how he did it, how did he build such a great team? His secret was to find out what made people tick, how they liked to work, what got them out of bed in the morning. If you can gather a group of people together who all got a charge out of the same things, you just have to let them loose in a room to play and they will do the rest.
The problem is how do you get this out of people in the interview process? Everyone has studied the same interview questions and memorized the answers that they think the interviewer wants to hear. That works fine for the figuring out if they know about software development and determining if they have the right skill set but how do you find out who they really are?
When I am being interviewed, I want the interviewer to have a good idea of who am so they can determine if I will fit the team. As I don’t know the team, they are the best judge of this and I want them to have all the information they need. I don’t want to waste their time or mine struggling in an organization that is a bad fit. It means that you won’t get every job that you apply for but you have a better chance of finding the right one.
These are some of my likes and dislikes:
1. I love hearing great ideas, regardless of where they come from. Just because someone isn’t from your department, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have something valuable to contribute. You should always be open to fresh viewpoints and new ideas.
2. I love to feel like I am helping things improve, to make a difference. If I am working at a company where I hear “that’s how we have always done it” too often, I know I am in trouble. The one rule in the software world is that everything changes. If your organization can’t be open to that, you will be obsolete. Now, you need to manage the rate of change or people become exhausted but you have to be always open to the possibility that things can be done better.
3. I like offices that hum, that feel like people are alive in them. If they are too quiet, it is like working in a tomb and there are liable to have people asleep at their desks. A great office has a hum to it, at any moment laughter can break out or a heated discussion can perk up. There is a vibrancy to it, it feels alive.
4. I like variety and the ability to try new things. It is easy to get stale when you have been at the same role for a long time and often the skills you have acquired are transferable to many areas of the company. People who are given a chance to try new things, even on a temporary basis will come back to their role with a ton of new ideas and a new perspective. At one time, I use to have the QA people spend some time on the help desk and have the help desk people work on testing for a while. It was a great team building exercise between the two departments and both departments were richer for it.
5. I dislike being micro managed. If I am spending too much of my time reporting on what I am doing rather than doing it, I will get frustrated and find somewhere else to work. I understand that in some organizations this might be necessary, it just isn’t a good fit for me.
6. I don’t design by committee. While I love getting feedback and consulting with other team members for ideas, I don’t work well where the work is done solely by committee. To me, a committee should be there to set the requirements, review and approve proposals. But trying to design something by committee just drives me crazy. The worst part is that the more creative the people, the worse it gets. Once you get more than 3 people all trying to design the same thing, chaos ensues. A far better solution to my way of working is to have people go off and produce a proposal and the best one wins. You could even take the best pieces of each proposal and build the final solution. But if you all had to sit in the same room and create it from scratch, I don’t think you would get the same quality of results. It might work for some people, I just know it doesn’t fit with my work style.
7. I love to have a defined goal to work towards. I work better when I have a target and I can gauge how I am doing against my goal. Rudolph Giuliani wrote a wonderful book called Leadership where he discussed how he was able to effect change in New York City departments that had become defeated and had given up. It was all about giving people the ability to feel that they were making a difference and a way to measure how they were doing.
8. I love to learn. I have to learn something new every year or I feel like I am getting old. Discovering new things makes me feel like I am still young and reminds me that the brain is still ticking! To do the same thing every day without change or a chance to improve is like death to me. Some people are great with routine and you always need some of these people in an organization to carry out the day to day stuff – I am just not one of them.
If I am looking for an organization that has similar likes and dislikes, I know I am going to either be able to create or find a team that I love. If I am interviewing someone for one of my teams, I am going to look for someone who will bring in a fresh perspective but will also thrive under the kind of team I am trying to create.