Your Team Might Not Be As Effective As You Think

I’ve had the privilege of working with highly effective teams for most of my career. In particular, the past 5 years have been incredible, working with the best software developers that I’ve ever known. The kind of teams that books are written about — embracing software craftsmanship, self-organization, agility (small ‘a’), responsibility and continuous improvement. The kind of teams that are principled, that share knowledge freely and deliver high quality software in a repeatable, sustainable fashion. So you can imagine that it came as a shock to me, when arriving at a new company, that the new team felt better in ways that I didn’t fully understand.

Effective Diversity

My realization wasn’t instantaneous. It was a gradual, multi-day process. In hindsight, it should have been evident right away, but it was my own learning process that slowed it down. My experience was simple: in a series of meetings, discussions, and collaboration opportunities, I was working with teams of people who were not all like me. Not all white, not all male, not all with a tech background, not all the same.

Vancouver is somewhat different than many places in the world in that we have a melting pot of many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds — so ethnic and cultural diversity wasn’t new to me — but one thing really stood out at Ayogo that changed the dynamic that I was used to. In almost every situation, I was working with teams that had not just one or two women, but many women. In some cases, they comprised more than half of the team.

My realization is that these teams take a different approach to problem solving. The way that ideas, concerns and questions are put forward is different. The way that individuals are given space to add their unique value and perspective is different. I find myself wanting to sit back, waiting a few seconds here and there in the discussion to see who else will offer an opinion, leaving space for others to move in. I continue to be impressed with the unexpected directions that decisions take, going down paths that would not have occurred to me on my own.

I’ve come to realize that while individual contribution is critically important, perhaps even more important is the composition of the team. Having teams with varied backgrounds, skills, knowledge and perspective opens up all kinds of possibilities. Uniform teams are blind to these possibilities, not because they aren’t good enough, but because the nature of their composition makes them incapable of seeing. They don’t know what they don’t know.

I reached out to the team with my observations and asked for their opinions. Ayogis jumped in with enthusiasm! We now have a conversation going — around the table, on Slack, and now here. Mine is just one perspective, but my point of view has now been expanded by opening it up to everyone.

I’m having a blast at Ayogo — discovering what’s possible with teams that are unlike any other. Highly effective teams, the best that I’ve ever known, because of their diversity.

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