Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hiding in the Corner

So i'm working a new job now, with a new team.  I've been here just over 3 months at this point and while i have a good handle on the culture here, i'm still learning some of the ins and outs. 

This week something happened that demonstrated to me that there are things about the culture that are impacting our ability to be successful and upon noticing these i found myself giving my first lecture to my team.  

Everyone knows that tech folks tend to be a little more socially awkward, on average, than your standard human being.  But that said they do cross a spectrum of personalities and trends for interpersonal communication.  But as is true with any group these personalities come together, combine with the traditions of the organization and form your culture.  The culture of the technology folks at this place trends towards quiet and insular.  My team gets along with each other pretty well on a quiet respectful basis and interacts with the other eng teams similarly.  The other eng teams kind of fit the same description.  It's not that we don't laugh when we're together but it's more that laughing only happens when we're together and not with others at the company. 

This description does not fit the other groups at the company.  As you might expect sales, marketing and client services are a lot more social, interrelate, participate and etc.  That's pretty natural. 

Well fast forward to this past Wednesday where the office admin sent out a couple of emails asking the employees to come in on Thursday wearing red and white or wearing something that says Canada on it.  The CEO became a Canadian Citizen on Wednesday and they wanted to have a little informal surprise celebration in front of his office.  

So the next day i come in, wearing a bright red t-shirt and a white over-shirt.  I enter through the back way so that if the boss is there he'll not see me and start to have suspicions.  I notice that not much of engineering is wearing red or white but i naively assume that at least a couple of my guys would have done something.   I see the first guy and i mock him a bit.  I feel that mockery is a very strong tool for behaviour modification, especially when it's an informal change that you're looking for.   Not too long after that i'm in a meeting room having my morning scrum with my team and not a single member of my team in that room is wearing red or white.  More like, their clothes seem to have been chosen for the opposite because there's not even any random bits of white on anyone's clothes. 

I think about doing a little good natured chiding but then i decide that this simply isn't good enough, that there's a really important point here that they are missing.  So we laugh a bit and then i go into lecture mode. 

There are two reasons why not conforming to work events like this are bad.  We've already talked about how engineering is a little insular in our company.  This is causing some problems.   At least due in part to the fact that the teams in engineering haven't really been building any relationships with the other teams at the company.  This has made it easier for other teams to play the finger pointing blame game rather than the 'let's be a team and figure this out' game.  Relationships are one of the key things that help reduce the blame game.  It's way harder to point finger's when your brain is going, 'Frank's a good guy, he wouldn't do anything on purpose to cause this problem.'   By standing back and not participating in these events it's encouraging the 'us' and 'them' mentality.  There's the people who are cool and interesting and care enough to be involved and the 'weirdos in the corner' who don't. 

The second reason is a little more self serving.  The CEO's office is pretty much in between our two groups.  So i asked the team what they thought he would think when he steps out of his office and looks to the right and sees a sea of white and blue and then looks to the left and sees an ocean of not even remotely red and white?  And better yet, what if he looked to the left and saw a little island of red and white in the blue and grey group and knew that that island was QA.  I'm not saying he'd rain cash down on us or anything but it's really important to stay both in the mind of of your CEO and while in that mind to be thought of positively.

Then my boss showed up not wearing a lick of the right colours...sigh. 
You don't have to play politics to be a good manager but you have to understand relationships, what they do and what they mean.  

I think the team got it. 

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