I was lucky enough to have one of those great team experiences early on in my career. It taught me a lot of valuable lessons and shaped me as a person. Lets evaluate what made that team so good…
The lead up
When I was introduced to the team as the lead programmer I was already in luck. One of the other team members already knew me, and he thought quite highly of me. That helped create a setting where I felt good almost immediately.
We had gotten what was considered to be the most difficult of 3 projects. There was an old system that was going to be put out of commission. A new system was being created in one of the other projects. A second project was to transfer all of the data from the old system into the new system. Our job was to create a third system that would transfer data from the new system back into the old system in real time. So the challenge was considered significant because not only did it require knowledge of two systems, it also had a real time aspect to it. We knew that it was going to be tough. Nevertheless, we made a plan and started working at it.
We had what I would call a normal start for any project, things happened reasonably fast and we made progress. When we had reached a pretty big milestone, we asked somebody outside of our team to do a quality assessment.
Coming together as a team
At that moment, things changed. The quality assessment was bad. Not horrible, but definitely bad. We had screwed up. The system that we were creating was heading towards becoming hard to very hard to maintain. It took us maybe a day to take it all in, but then we decided that quality was important. We had to fix it, now! Before it was too late.
We talked with the project manager and tried our best to explain what the problem was and that we wanted to fix the quality at that exact moment. He disagreed, instead wanting to focus on new features. It was devastating for me at first, until the guys came to me and said: “Hey man. We see that you think that this is really important. What about we work overtime to get you the time to fix the quality issues. Would that help?”
That moment is still ingrained into my memory as the moment where we decided to be a team. We took to working as hard as we could to make it happen. About two weeks later, we came out having fixed all of the quality issues and still being completely on schedule.
Valuing the differences
It turned out that we were all focused on achieving the same goals. We were also keenly aware of the fact that some of us focused more on customer needs, some of us were more focused on reliability and testing, and some of us were more focused on keeping everything neat. That was something we could work with. We got to know each other and we were interested in helping each other. Both professionally as well as occasionally personally. This created a situation in which we could thrive. You would always know that if you were bad at something, one of the others would step in and make sure it wasn’t a problem.
We became very confident that we could make a great product, but we also knew that to achieve a great result, sometimes we had to disobey what others told us. We knew that we could get away with this disobedience as long as we kept delivering high quality at a high pace. So that became a major focus. We decided to always do the right thing, even when others would tell us that we shouldn’t. It made life exciting and made the bond between the team members stronger, since we were aware that the secret was that we were good as a team.
The personal aspect of a good team
We had lots of talks about what we thought was going to happen. Sometimes we would disagree vividly. Sometimes we came together on something instantly. All of us had a part to play and we were respectful to each other, even when we were disagreeing strongly. It was this part of our team interaction that kept us on the lookout for what would possibly come. It made us secure the system against so many different types of problems that eventually our system became one of the most stable systems in the company.
We had good times talking about everything in our lives, both good and bad. We stood by each other in hard times and had fun together in good times. And we focused on growth of individual team members. When someone asked for help, we would found time to help them. No matter the amount. In the end, it was the combination of a great personal connection and achieving great business results that made us a great team.
A long lasting success
After 3 and a half years of working together we had created a great product. But as far as I’m concerned, the product was not the best thing to come out of that experience.
When I think back on all the things that we did, I always remember why we did things and why it “just worked”. I’ve tried to replicate that success in many other situations, trying to take into account what other people say about what it takes to become a great team.
I’ve found several ingredients and have seen other teams be successful. But never again did I find a group that was as cohesive and committed to each other as I did with that team. We still meet up about once per quarter, 10 years later now, and talk. It is a great feeling to me, knowing that my colleagues of that long ago still want to know how I’m doing.
Creating more teams like this
Ever since this team experience, I’ve been on a quest to create more of those. Want to join me in my quest? Try out Challenge #1