Helping diverse teams work better together

People, processes, tools.

You’ve heard it before, but this time, I want you to REALLY consider it.

Processes, you can get from a book. Tools, you can buy, try, and even get for free. But people? Hmm, that’s where things get a little more difficult.


In many respects, people are the most important part of all. Who is going to use the tools and carry out the processes? Who is going to think DevOps first and act accordingly? Who is going to consider a task or project, and decide the most sensible, DevOps-y way to do it? Why, the people, of course!

Great teamwork on diverse teams

One console_final

If you’ve been tasked with molding a tech team into a harmonious collaboration machine (or you think it’s a good idea before you go down the path of DevOps and automation), keep reading.

Today, we’re going to look at how to ensure that your tech team - and beyond - is filled with the kind of people who will help take your product and company further than you ever thought possible.

Now, we’re aware that as an IT manager, it may not be your job to hire new employees. If you do have a role in that, great - we’ve got some advice for you that we’ll give you in a later article. Today we’re focussing on the people you’ve already got, taking your team and helping them work better together, whether they’re devs, ops, system architects, or something completely different.

Great teamwork and DevOps

First, a little primer in why it’s so important to get these teams working together in perfect harmony. Primarily, it’s because well-functioning teams make any business, DevOps-oriented or not, much more productive and efficient. This is especially important in tech teams.

Why tech teams? Imagine you’re looking into a methodology like DevOps. One of the first things that you’ll learn is that DevOps requires synchronicity of teamwork, absence of silos, and a complete end to the “throw it over the wall” mentality. Teams that don’t work together well are slow and inefficient, the polar opposite of what DevOps teams aim to be. Why? People who don't work well together tend to concentrate only on the small part of the process that they directly contribute to, and don’t think of the other parts or how they relate to each other.

The problems of subpar teamwork

In other words, they become tunnel visioned. These tunnel vision teams don’t think about how to improve their relationships and the process never gets better or speeds up. It leads to silos, which in turn results in a very low bus factor, and often ends with “over the wall” thinking, which can quickly lead to resentment and a whole lot of stagnancy. It's a lot of buzzwords, I know, but they're real problems that you'll see in real teams! Read on to find out what they really mean and see if they are happening to you.

Silos

Silos happen when team members concentrate exclusively on their own, limited role in a (software development) process, or more widely, in a specific team. By locking onto their personal role with such specificity, they forget or neglect to look to the neighboring and other parts of the system and are ignorant about how they all fit together to make a whole.

Think of it like a sandwich assembly team. If you’re in charge of slicing the bread, but are unaware of what happens next, you might cut it randomly and at awkward angles, leaving it completely unsuitable for sandwiches. The person in charge of the filling will either have to make substandard sandwiches or hack away on the bread to get it into even slices. See the problem? If our bread cutter knew and cared what was coming up next, she or he could cut even slices in groups of two, making the sandwich-making process...smoother and more efficient! When you’re working in a silo, you slow the whole process down. It also tends to lead to a low...

Bus factor

The bus factor, my particular favorite, is the number of people on your team who would have to get (theoretically!) knocked down by a bus before parts of the process would cease to work. The higher the better. The reasoning? If there is a specific part of the system that only one person knows how to do and that person gets run over, the system will stop working, or at least slow down significantly. If several people know how to do that job, several of them would have to get very unlucky before the system saw the same slowdown, which makes things safer and more resilient.

And siloed teams with a low bus factor often also engage in...

Throw it over the wall thinking

“Throw it over the wall” thinking happens when people are forced to interact with teams they are isolated from. The teams neither understand nor know each other, but yet need each other to help them do their job. With minimal communication or information sharing, their interactions tend to be inefficient and wrecked with accusations, recriminations, and general bad juju. Instead of collaborating to meet the need, the teams “throw the problem over the wall” to the next team, and are surprised and disappointed when it isn't solved as expected!

Improving collaboration fast

Unfortunately, there’s no special product you can buy to help eliminate silos, low bus factors, and over the wall thinking - there isn’t really even a proven methodology. Instead, the key to helping diverse teams work together is twofold. On one hand, you must model and encourage collaborative behavior wherever possible - people will learn from visible leaders they feel they can trust. Secondly, you must facilitate collaborative behavior where you can - you’d be surprised at the small but significant things that might be keeping your teammates apart.

Modeling

Your first task is both the easiest and the hardest. Easy, because all you need to do is work collaboratively and seek collaboration where possible. Hard, because it is something you will have to do forever and something that might, at times, seem completely useless. Even so, we urge you give it go. You're already aware it's the best course of action (or you wouldn't be reading), so if anyone can do, it's you!

Make it your mission to befriend other teams, isolated members, remote workers, and anyone else who isn’t part of your team’s in-crowd. Assess new proposals in terms of collaboration and jump on any opportunities you see. Encourage those in more senior positions to do the same, and reward those who you see making an effort. Overall, you’re looking to change the narrative from “my team” to “our company” - be on the lookout for ways to make this happen that might be specific to you.

Collaborative goals

Once you’ve been spreading collaborative vibes everywhere you go for a while, see if you can try to solidify the idea with a more collaborative approach to goal setting. Obviously, this is something the whole company needs to be in on, but if you have started sowing more collaborative seeds among the powers that be, it just might take.

The idea is to take goals and actions from being entirely team-oriented to goals that are company-oriented and, later, actions that are team-oriented. OKRs are often popular for this purpose and there are many tools you can use to create them, which makes the job a little easier. Once collaborative OKRs have been set, make sure that the process via which they will be reached is crystal clear, with progress made, key collaborators, and results made visible to everyone.

Practical facilitation

Plans and strategies are fine, but you’d be surprised at how much collaboration is prevented simply by fixable, physical problems. In the first instance, try to create opportunities to collaborate, whether professionally (training, projects) or socially (social events). Also, contemplate where your people physically are - can they actually collaborate with others or is it really difficult to get in the same room or to visit a desk?

This is an aspect of collaboration that has been complicated hugely by coronavirus - you may need to work extra hard to facilitate teamwork in times of facemasks and social distancing, and you may need a completely different tactic if everyone now works from home. Even so, if that is the case, you’ll find vast quantities of advice and tips on this have sprung up all over the internet very recently.

Unfortunately, a collaborative attitude isn’t one you can just enable - it’s something you’ll have to work on over time. The good news is that any work you do to help diverse teams work together will help regardless of your next steps. Even if you never adopt another methodology or approach, great teamwork will help your product and company go even further.

If you are planning to adopt something new, like DevOps, starting now will pave the way for a much quicker and more effective takeup of the main ideas and principals when they do come along.

There are many tools available to help facilitate the adoption of DevOps (like Cycloid!) and if your team is already in the habit of thinking “us” rather than “me”, it will help make the adoption smoother and more natural.

Help your team to work better together - start building a better collaboration today.

1,900 other IT professionals are learning about the transformational power of DevOps via our newsletter

I want to learn too

 



Read More

InfraView: ever wish your colleagues understood your infra better?

Distributed teams, collaborative tools, democratic access to the CI/CD pipeline... They're all...
Mar 30 - 3 min read

Does DevOps help or hinder shadow IT?

Shadow IT is... “any technology (application, person, or device) deployed within an organization...
Aug 13 - 4 min read

Creating a better on-call culture in your tech team

Tech products play a crucial role in many of today’s lives. Some definitions of “crucial" are a...
Oct 15 - 5 min read