On the Importance of the Team

This week, our City School District handed down an unpopular decision – to close a charter-type middle school. I have a friend whose son attends the school, and they both spent a lot of time and energy trying to change the School Board’s minds about the closure. I was very impressed with their effort but in the end, I’m not sure if anyone was really listening.

After hearing the news that the school would be closed, the thing my friend lamented first and foremost was not the uncertain prospect of another school, or a different level of challenge for her son. It was the loss of the community the school had become.

The opposite could be said of my old job with the State. I was in charge of a group of developers (among other things), and gave it as much thought and effort as I had. We delivered a lot of great things, on many tight timelines, and I often felt it was the best place for me to contribute to the world. But after eight years, I realized that the community around me was never going to be as good as I thought it needed to be. Over a long weekend, I made up my mind to leave. I was gone about a month later.

I could write many other examples from my personal experience or that of my close friends. Examples where someone sticks it out in a tough situation, or leaves an easy, high-paying job for something more difficult and less rewarding. The theme that emerges in each case is the same.

Your team is the most important asset you have.

That’s right – your disruptive product, synergistic partnerships, business model, funding stream, delivery process and technical wizardry are all secondary in importance to your team. That huge idea you’re out there making noise about? It’s very probable that someone else is already doing it, too. With more funding, six months ahead of you, and with a much trendier technology stack. Or a better corporate partner. GForge is a good example of some of these disadvantages – tools like Github and Jira are much better known and flashier-looking.

So how do you compete? If you have all that buzzword-y stuff I listed above and a bunch of superstar strangers delivering it, you simply aren’t set up to get where you want to go. No, you need to get the best (nicest, most dedicated and OF COURSE talented) people you can find, fit them together carefully, give them space and boundaries.

All of the other goals you have – making good decisions, making up for bad ones, staying late to do it right, knocking it out of the park for a big customer – all of these things flow from the team.

Fix your team. Make sure everyone belongs, and make sure they know it.

This is exactly what Tony’s been doing since he took over at GForge. It’s definitely working for us:

  • We delivered more new features in the six-month 6.2 cycle than in the previous two years.
  • Everyone on the team contributes to planning, new development, and support.
  • We all know who to lean on for Unix-y OS stuff, versus Javascript-y stuff, versus REST/SOAP/API kinda stuff.
  • All code is reviewed. Everything else (documents, mockups, plans, ideas) is at least shared out as we’re working on it.

This is the best overall team I’ve ever been part of, and that is Really Saying Something. We are definitely our biggest asset, and we are doing great things every day together. Those disadvantages I mentioned before? We’re adding more features on a weekly basis, and gaining new customers every month.

I’ll write more about our roadmap another time, soon.  Until then, let’s hear about your team. Changes, successes, problems? Leave a comment!

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