Team Culture

This past summer I was lucky enough to be witness to 2 really great teams. These teams were not both in sports, nor did they achieve any special recognition or accolades. One team was a group of girls looking to play softball over the summer. The other was a cohort of apprentices that really knew how to work together and bring each other up. In both cases I felt like the luckiest spectator to watch these teams do their thing and have so much fun doing it.

The Softball Team

So I will start with the softball team I coached this year. The team was made up of 14 girls of ages 10-14 (by the time games started) and we are stretching at least 4 different grade levels. In all accounts a recipe for chaos, cliques and players seeking individual glory, right? WRONG! DEAD WRONG in fact… I’d swear an outsider might think these girls were all sisters or something. They played as a team, they all seemed to get along and most of all they all had fun playing the game together win or lose. Alright maybe not sisters with how close they appeared without fighting, but you know what I mean.

In one specific instance the girls had just been rain delayed as the umpires saw lightning but it was not raining overhead. Where the other team scattered to the stands, dugout and surrounding area, my team was sitting in the right field grass in a circle playing a game together and enjoying the time away from the game as a team. They were laughing and playing and although they wanted to get back to the game they were happy to be with each other and having a change to have fun.

In another instance the girls were in the playoffs and playing their best. The game came down to a heartbreaking finish to where the girls lost the game and the right to play further for a championship. In one moment those tears of sadness turned to joy as one of the moms said, “Well, since we aren’t playing tomorrow how about a pool party”. Out of a possible 11 girls, 10 showed up the next day and stayed way longer than anticipated and had the time of their lives as a team. Even weeks later after the season had ended and was long gone, the girls got together again for a Lake Erie Crushers game and captured that same energy.

The Apprentices

My second story of culture is work related. I work as an instructor where I am leading apprentices through a difficult and challenging bootcamp to become Web Developers. This can be a very stressful time and can take anyone to the edge. There are many different personalities, backgrounds, ages, etc. coming together and really being forced together for 12 weeks. Under these circumstances you can’t expect that everyone will get along and you can’t ask them to. You can only hope that everyone can learn to be respectful and mindful of the others in the room. In most cases this works a lot like any office. You have the people you work with and then you go home and you don’t see them and are generally ok with that. This last cohort was a bit different…

Starting almost from the getgo, this cohort really communicated with each other. They would generally be quiet in the mornings but right around or after lunch you could hear the conversations on projects, ideas, and just general conversation. I have been very blessed in that each cohort has some level of collaboration. In this one it really started when one person went to the whiteboard during a work session and was like “OK, were going to design this application”. and then started to rally others to help with the design. I counted 5 people actively participating in the design, 3-5 more listening in and all the rest at least peeking to see what was going on from time to time. This style of collaboration where class discussions would drive productivity continued.

By the end of the cohort my .NET room and the JAVA room even fed off each other and just brought the whole place to a different level. It was amazing to watch. 12 weeks went by like 12 days. Today I am in my second day since they graduated and can’t believe it is over and they have become alumni. Many of them with jobs, many others with offers imminent. All will be missed.

Conclusion

I don’t know what I am doing to be around such great groups. This is just 2 instances. I could talk about many others from teams I have played on, places I have worked, even teams I have built. The one key to the success and the strong desire to not want to see those teams end is the culture of the team. Not only bringing different people together but bringing them together in such a way that they respect each others, learn from their differences and ultimately make life that much more fun.

How do you teach a group of people to be a team?

How do you convince them that life is much more enjoyable when you are part of the team and not out for individual gain?

How do you cultivate the culture that I have witnessed?

In talking with one of my coaches on the softball team he credited me with the culture and saying I created this. I did this… I didn’t do anything but take 14 girls, teach them softball and set a few rules at practices and games. If that somehow caused culture that I witness than by all means,

My rules:

1. You got to have fun… Softball by nature is a game. Games are meant to be fun. If you are not having fun you are doing it wrong…

In coding the same is true. Every application is a puzzle, puzzles are found near the games, games are fun therefore by virtue of proximity puzzles are fun and therefore so is coding…

2. Be safe… I told the girls I need them to understand the rules and why we have them so no one on our team or on another team gets hurt. No one is having fun when someone is hurt.

In work, being safe is the same. Why go out of your way to hurt someone. Be safe, follow the rules and contribute to everyone’s understanding.

3. Give it your all. Win or lose you have to try your best. If you give anything less why even try. Give it everything you have at that time.

With the cohorts the same is true. The apprentices pay to be there. Why wouldn’t you give it your all and do everything you could to succeed.

I really find it hard to believe I build these cultures. I am just the lucky guy that gets to be a part of them and see others flourish from them. Thanks to my experiences with the girls this year it sounds like I will be back to 2 teams next year for coaching and my next cohort is just weeks away.

I can’t wait…

Impostor Syndrome, my dealings…

I think the best way to start this is to define impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is the feeling of not belonging or feeling as though you are a fraud among others within a group, team or community. For me this is directly applied to my chosen career path in software development and more recently in the teaching and mentoring space. This is a feeling that I know all too well and for years have tried to hide and ignore these feelings. Here in this post I just want to talk about this a little and hopefully give someone reading this post a few ideas about how to deal.

So impostor syndrome, am I an impostor? I have felt this way from the start of my career. The first days being in a software development company I felt like I had no business in the building and especially no business working with developers, quality assurance or any other department. I was severely intimidate by the developers, even those just starting on the job. I always felt my skills were inferior and I would never be as smart, as good as them. I continuously felt like I was always trying to catch up and was just falling behind. Now as my career progressed this feeling didn’t really get better, I still felt the intimidation and the feeling of being inferior. The difference is that I didn’t give up trying and knew that even if I felt I wasn’t as good as them I could still contribute to the team in some way.

This is the first piece of advice I have: Find a way to feel like you are contributing

When you are contributing to the cause and you feel accomplished at the end of the day it is a little easier to get through each day and not worry about any feeling of being an impostor. In the course of my career I have always found those tasks and things that other developers didn’t want to do and did those. This would include things like resizing dialogs, creating sales demonstration forms, and writing preprocessors. Starting here allowed me to not only contribute but earn better tasks as time passed.

Next I would tell someone Never give up learning

If you are forever a student, whether you are at someone else’s level or not, you are willing to put in the time and effort to learn you belong. I am a firm believer that you are never done learning. Anyone willing to learn and continue to grow has a place on a team somewhere.

The surprising thing is that Others feel the same way

I am currently working with some of the top people in the field, mentoring and training developers. I was SHOCKED to learn that some of them have this same feeling. I was especially taken back when a coworker admitted to this feeling when I felt it around them. Although never directly working with them before I never would have guessed they felt this way. The more I am around my coworkers the more I am trying to find ways to impress and just meet their level of knowledge. I constantly feel like I am going to be found out to be fraud. Knowing they feel it too I think this has given a level of acceptance of this feeling and knowing that this feeling is not unique to me.

Feeling like an impostor doesn’t make you any less worthy of the title you have or the right to do what it is you do. Feeling like an impostor may even help you stay humble and hungry for more knowledge. I currently use this feeling to learn everything I can and at least stay in the conversations around me. I try to learn a little of everything and dive deeper where I can to really make a good contribution.

This probably leads to my last piece of advice Find your niche

Finding something to specialize in is always a good idea. Also don’t be intimidated when someone else has the same knowledge. Instead use them to bounce ideas off of and figure out how you can further the knowledge even further. Even then, they probably know some things where you know something else in the topic and together you have a more well rounded knowledge.