You are out for a drink one evening with a friend of yours. You have not seen each other for a while, so you have a lot to catch up. You talk about the last time you saw each other, your families, your hobbies. At one moment you start talking about your work.
You are a software engineer, while your friend is in another business. You talk about the differences in your day to day work. You also note on the many similarities, because both you are part of a team.
You hear stories and eventually realise both teams, even in completely different industries, do a lot of things in common. You find similarities in how the work is communicated to the team, some of the rituals and regular meetings that both teams do, relationship between different team members and even some team roles. You know – everything that groups of people do in order to make sure work is going forward.
Their process is close to yours. Yet, even when both of you seem to do a lot of the same things like short daily meetings with the whole team, weekly/biweekly planning sessions, meetings to demonstrate progress and discuss how work can be improved, both of you does not seem to like them as much as the other does.
You love your short daily meetings, while your friend does not like his. You on the other hand are not a big fan of your planning meetings, while he says theirs, surprisingly to you, are pretty cool.
So their process is closet yours, you do the same stuff, yet something is totally different.
Why is that? – you ask yourself.
Two very different meetings
Let’s return to the daily meetings. You ask your friend why does he does not like it so much?
”Is it too long?” No, he says, its like 10 minutes in the morning.
”Maybe it does not start on time?” No, not an issue, 10:00 AM – meeting. Every day, on time.
”Do you enjoy working and collaborating with your team?” Yes, he says.
It does not make any sense. “Than why is there an issue”, you ask?
“Because it’s pointless.” He answers.
Pointless? Waste of time? But how? What do you do at the meeting?
Every daily meeting starts the same and goes through the same ritual. People gather around in a circle, standing up, then talk, taking turns. Everybody will say what has he done until last meeting, will do until the next one and what problems are faced at the moment, so nobody stays blocked for long.
Again, both of you are doing the same thing.
Why is this a waste of time for him, but not for you?
Then you find it. You see, his team is doing the same thing as yours, but they are just reporting to their manager. They do not really collaborate at all. Yes, all of them are part of a team, but everybody is focused on their own tasks. It is just a status meeting, every single day.
Everybody at the meeting will just wait for their turn. They are not really listening carefully others, because what matters is only what they are going to say. Of course your friend will think this is a huge waste of time! The only person not wasting time at that meeting is his manager. How is this helping others do their job?
For you it is different. Daily meetings are a way to collaborate with your awesome teammates. This is not a status report. In fact, you do not do a lot of status reports at all. When others talk, you listen. When you talk – they listen. No time is wasted for all of you, as what is important is not individual work done, but the work of the team. In the end of every week team either delivered or failed and that is all that is important.
To an outsider, both teams appear to do the same thing. Appearance can be deceiving.
Now that we have our story, allow me to introduce you to something:
Personal skill < Process < Culture
Years ago I was shown this equation. I was even told that each of the items is 10 times more important.
I did not believe it.
Culture and Company Values are just HR mumbo-jumbo, aren’t they? I took that information with a grain of salt.
I understood why process will trump individual skill. You could be working hard and be one of the best. Put yourself in a dysfunctional organisation and you will stop contributing, even when you work as hard as you can. There are many small things that could go wrong and stifle your ability to deliver. What if you are blocked by the business not getting requirements on time for you to start working? What if every bug becomes a mini war between Developers and Quality Assurance?
I was not sure about culture yet. I knew it is important, but could it be that important? How is this even related to software delivery? Well I changed my mind about that eventually. Now I am convinced.
Whatever you are doing as a process, whatever are your rituals, you must seek the underlying motivation behind them. Because all that you do is defined by culture. Culture will shape your processes. Doing the same things could produce completely different results if you change the why. Only culture can explain why you do things how you do. Process? It will give you just the name of the what you do.
But how can you help your friend? You think you have a possible solution for him. You tell him: “Start small. Just ask your manager to participate and share what he worked on.”
Will that help? Maybe it will not be enough, but at least it will change the meeting from a status report to something else. This will make team feel he is part of them. They will realize their manager is just like them, but operating in a different level. See what his contribution is. Because he is contributing, just like they are. Unless he is not, in which case what is he actually doing?
This will not fix all the problems, but hey – it’s a start.
Thank you for reading.
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