Team fit

“The human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” John Keating (Robin Williams), Dead Poets Society

Science tends to measure and quantify things. By making them concrete, tangible, it sets itself boundaries. But passion breaks them. That’s why they work so well together and why they can’t “be” without each other. For engineers to perform in a manner that is beyond ordinary, an organization must provide a system that will foster the passion. That system is culture.

Culture is a group phenomenon. It manifests itself through shared values and behaviours and is experienced through the norms and expectations of a group. When in harmony with personal traits, it provides an environment that empowers people to perform at their best. A degree of that harmony is called team fit.

Software engineering is a highly collaborative process. From the time when work to create software is begun, in the discovery phase, until its retirement, we’re in constant contact with various stakeholders. Furthermore, as we take on more responsibility, collaboration become more important.

Software is everywhere. Professional services take us to diverse industry sectors. Creating a solution that will meet the end-user's expectations, requires us to really understand the business, regardless of the role.

To work, contribute and progress in such systems, we need to be equipped with competencies that go beyond the technical. For that we need to look at the domain of emotional and social intelligence. The former provides us with skills to execute the task, while the latter enables us to take it through the process efficiently.

So, what is it, exactly, that we are looking for? This is a question I put to colleagues. After several individual and group discussions, we came to a consensus on a list of eight competencies, all of which are perceived as crucial in certain contexts:

  • Approachability: a prerequisite for collaboration to happen is that you feel comfortable to approach your colleague no matter if you bring bad or good news.
  • Accountability: they may rely on you. Once you have come to an agreement with your team mates, and the work is shared, they should be able to trust you to complete your tasks in the agreed time frame and quality.
  • Integrity: may your actions be at one with your values, principles and beliefs, in every context. People of integrity always do the right thing. They are honest and feel comfortable admitting when they don’t know something. They are open to different opinions and always welcome feedback.
  • Empathy: only if you are honestly concerned about and understand the feelings and perspective of others, will you be able to establish a mutual bond. That bond is fundamental for establishing a feeling of psychological safety in the team – the foundation for every high-performance team.
  • Adaptability: we live in a world of diversity. People we work with come from different cultures, have different opinions and professional/educational backgrounds. Projects we work on are from different industries run by various technologies. As an integral part of these processes, we absorb, analyse and assimilate a huge amount of information and emotions. We adapt.
  • Proactiveness: in a time of innovations, products should not only be designed in response to impulses from the market in real-time, but one should also try to predict such impulses and act ahead of time. Engineers follow that rhythm and, assisted by proven practices, methodologies and the right technology choices, make this a reality.
  • Courage: it takes courage to challenge the status quo and leave one's comfort zone. Those are the first two steps on the way forward – on the road between opportunity and success.
  • Endurance: good things take time. Just try to remember how many things that made an impact, or of which you’re proud, took a short time to happen.

You may ask yourself if it is realistic to expect someone to possess all these competencies. In my experience, it is. The difference being only which of these are closer to the surface.

By Marko Simić