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So Happy Together

Bobby Knight. You either love him or hate him. I’m from Indiana, so I love him. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize his significant shortcomings. To call him a flawed hero is an understatement.

There’s one thing that is beyond dispute, however. Bobby Knight valued team play above individual achievement. He naturally recruited highly talented players, but what he looked for more than anything else were players who would put the team above their own ambitions. More than once he led an undertalented team that was high in discipline and teamwork deep into the NCAA tournament.

We need to learn a lesson from The General.

We’re better together than we are by ourselves. Period.

Software development is a team sport. Period.

Beware A Guy In A Room

I once heard a talk at a conference by a Microsoft manager who admonished us as development team members, “Beware of a guy in a room!” What he was talking about is the lone wolf programmer who sequesters himself or herself to work on a key part of the project and either emerges six months later with a solution incompatible with the rest of the system, or never emerges at all. Sometimes he leaves the company and the team doesn’t find out until weeks later. Ok, I made that last part up, but I always wondered if that ever happened.

This sounds ridiculous, but anyone who has read The Phoenix Project knows what a ‘Brent’ is. In the story, a high-profile software project dragged on for years partially because one of the key developers, Brent, was at the beck and call of every manager in the company and spent 100% of his time fighting fires. He had become indispensable. This wreaked havoc across the entire enterprise. One of the major turning points in the book was when Brent was freed up to work on the Phoenix Project.

We’re All Brents

The truth is that we’re all Brents. We may or may not want to be indispensable—seems like too much work to me. But even if we don’t, our attitude is frequently like the surly partner in every buddy movie you’ve ever seen: “I work alone.”

Of course, we say the right things in an interview. We love working in teams. We’re equally comfortable on a team or as an individual contributor. We’re real team players.

What we really want is to be given some work and to be left alone to do it. We think pairing is a waste of time, collaboration is overrated, and we’d be better off with the minimum amount of interaction with others so we can “get stuff done.”

We can’t admit this, of course, because we’re agile and if people knew what we really thought, we’d have to put up with a constant stream of chatter aimed at persuading us of the error of our ways.

It’s Complicated

Of course, I’ve overstated the case and erected bit of a straw person here. Many of us do like working on teams and aren’t being deceitful in interview. We are team players.

But we’re also techies. We weren’t drawn to extroverted jobs like recruiting or sales. We like wrestling with technical issues and solving hard problems. We enjoy heads down, focused work that produces a satisfying solution.

What complicates this further is that we feel like we’re not evaluated on our team skills, but on our individual technical skills. When stories move across the board and eventually into the “Done” column, my name is on the story, not the folks I collaborated with.

You Might Be A Brent If…

There’s no easy answer to this tension we feel between individual and team contribution. You may be in a situation where you are the only developer on the team, or even in the entire organization, so you better be able to work alone.

In today’s climate, however, it’s more likely you’re part of a team. In that case, how do I know if I’m being a Brent?

Here are some indicators:

  1. You refuse or prefer not to pair.
  2. When you do pair and you’re the one on the keyboard, you just start typing away without communicating with your partner at all.
  3. When you pair and your partner is on the keyboard, you are impatient with your partner and eventually just take the keyboard away from them.
  4. You think story refinement is an interruption to your workflow rather than an integral part of it.
  5. You don’t participate in retros, or you give such little thought to what went well, what went poorly, and what the team could improve upon that you can’t give meaningful input.
  6. When you’re assigned a story, you create a feature branch, pull up your IDE, and start typing. Little or no thought is given to design, and you don’t ask another developer to walk through what you should do with you. Sometimes you don’t even read the acceptance criteria.

Lest you think I’m being unfair or overly harsh, these are just a sampling of the sins I have committed over time and that I struggle with.

What Now?

What do we do now? How do I become a better team player?

The easy answer is to look at the list of indicators above and don’t do those things. The problem is, this list is neither comprehensive nor can I claim it is representative of what all developers face. It’s just a list of my major neuroses.

What I can say is to give it some reflection and see where you might be falling short as a team member. And talk to your team. If you can’t talk to your team, that’s probably an indicator in itself.

Finally, here’s an aphorism I’ve heard in several different contexts, but it applies here very well:

If you want to go fast, travel alone.

If you want to go far, travel together.

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Tech Solutions for Rapid Growth

The Situation

When we first engaged with Crossroads Church, they were struggling to stay agile amidst their growth and needed a partner with a growth mindset that could help through their agile transformation. Teams were struggling with autonomy and measurement. Our partnership with Crossroads has flourished throughout the years. We provide the best consultants to meet their Product Ownership, Scrum Master, Design, Development, and Quality Assurance needs across 50+ Products. Crossroads has been undergoing a rapid agile transformation, and their needs have shifted to include strategic planning for products, preparing teams for discovery, restructuring the team dynamic, scaling processes to be right-sized, and building an empowering culture. As they have grown, their website needed to scale to be able to support new locations with customizations, similar to a franchise model. We also helped them with their Kids’ Club application that needed an improved customer experience for improved kid safety, parent notification, and faster check-in and checkout process.

The Solution

We work closely with Crossroads to align resources and skills to meet very fluid goals. Our consultants collaborate with employees and other consultants across a diverse product portfolio, supported by autonomous teams. The Crossroads culture, similar to our culture at Ingage, embraces a growth mindset which enables our consultants to explore, train, and develop into new roles. Our consultants flex to the need, pursuing professional development, able to quickly adapt to new roles. We recently transitioned an automation consultant to a developer role. And, we’ve had others flex to need floating between product owner, scrum master, and agile coach roles. Our team has created value by optimizing existing products, defining new products in discovery, and retiring products.We helped modernize and add more engaging content for their website while improving team culture along the way. We’ve also analyzed and recommended products to purchase to replace outdated payment and custom travel solutions.
For Kids’ Club, we helped streamline the check-in process, which led to increased safety measures, improved parent notifications, and functionality that alerts staff when a new room needs to be opened. This creates an experience for parents that delivers peace-of-mind, helps employees provide organized care, and collects more accurate data. No available product could deliver all the complex requirements needed for Kids’ Club. But, now the code is freely available on GitHub.

The Impact

We’re helping Crossroads care for up to 10,000 kids each weekend. Because the updates to event check-in allow for faster check-in and more personalized data capture, events can start more quickly and community engagement has increased. This not only serves Crossroads’ Ministry but also Crossroads’ volunteers and families. Additionally, the engaging content we’re developing is helping individuals process their personal stories. Along the way, we’ve helped to modernize their technology stack and architecture.With all of these changes, team culture and morale have been impacted. We’ve embraced growth and agile mindsets leveraging SCRUM and design thinking, to create a culture and set of teams that can adapt to meet client needs.

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Building a Resilient Culture, Remote.

Navigating our way through this pandemic is not too dissimilar to finding your way through a pitch-dark house in wee hours of the night.  Blurry-eyed and uncertain, stretching out your arms in faith hoping not to stub your toe, you follow a familiar path. Like many others, the pandemic forced our teams to a remote work model.  For a company describing themselves as people-centered, where a thriving and connected culture is one of our company’s competitive advantages, this change has been difficult. 

These last few months have given us some time to reflect on how well we were prepared for a time like this. We’re constantly learning but these three fundamental approaches to business and people have shaped our ability to weather this storm: 

1. Cast a Values-Based Vision 

There’s a parable that has been told many times over the years about three bricklayers. It goes like this:

 A traveler came upon three men working. He asked the first man what he was doing and the man replied he was laying bricks. He asked the second man the same question and replied he was putting up a wall. When he asked the third man what he was doing the man answered that he was building a cathedral. 

I have often considered how each bricklayers values shaped how he viewed his work. If people naturally desire meaningful work and purpose, then the three bricklayers assuredly had a desire for purpose. But only one happened to see his work as part of the bigger vision of building a cathedral. 

Ingage was founded ten years ago with a vision that business can and should be a force for good in society. Our value system is centered on the notion that with great power comes great responsibility and that hasn’t changed, even amidst a global pandemic. Although it looks a little different these days, we continue to find ways to give back responsibly. 

As leaders,  It’s our job to create the intersection of work and purpose. When you cast this vision with authenticity for your team and align your business decisions to this vision, you and your team will see more than just bricks.

2. Be Intentional

As a management and technology consulting company, a majority of our consultants work in teams at the client site. The nature of our work model and the value we place on being people-centered, demands intentionality to achieve a connected culture. 

Pre-Covid, our entire company would come together one day each month for “Ingage Days”. This is a time to get important company updates, but more importantly it is a time to spend with your fellow Ingagers. This is a time to talk shop, volunteer together, learn something new or just have some fun. Ingage Days have looked much different over these last few months, being held via Zoom. However, the team has rallied to come up with unique ways, like virtual scavenger hunts and team-based wellness competitions. Investing in activities that bring people together to strengthen personal relationships among employees is key to achieving a resilient culture. Sometimes that means virtual dance parties…! 

3. Be Vulnerable

How would our workplaces be different if we revealed more of our authentic selves? What if we felt safe to talk about our struggles? What would be the impact on the people we work with and lead?  Being vulnerable at work for many organizational cultures may be seen as a sign of weakness, incompetence or unprofessionalism. Our experience with vulnerability has been a sign of trust. When we share our struggles and real self it is a statement of “I trust you with this information.”  It has created a culture of genuine care, empathy and compassion. 

These traits have been on full display during these last few months as people have shared mental health struggles, family stressors, fear, and sadness.  It has allowed us to have open conversations with our team about racial inequity, mental health awareness, our political landscape and democracy. 

Invite your team to be vulnerable starting with you. By definition, resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. How do you build a resilient culture if you don’t understand or appreciate what your team needs to recover from? 

It’s a proven theory for us that people value being together in community, preferably in person but if done right it works virtually as well. Culture matters, your employees matter and building a resilient culture will positively impact your business. It’s not too late to shore up the footers. And if you work hard at it, your team will thank you:

Thank You, Executive Team