- The Dysfunctional Team I: Introduction & The Kick-off
- The Dysfunctional Team II: Safety & Trust
This series of posts covers a fictional struggling software development team. The story is based on situations I have experienced, seen myself or heard about in the past two decades.
Each post covers several scenes that play out between the members of the team. In later posts we will also reflect on behaviors and what could be improved.
Let’s jump straight into the story.
Sally enters the pantry as one of the last people to join. She has a brief flashback to when she first started working here five years ago. As a junior developer at the time, she was welcomed by the members of a prior team, right here in this pantry. The warm atmosphere and collaborative vibe were what attracted her to this place. All of the members of that first team since moved on to either other teams or other companies. For Sally, now grown into a senior back-end developer role, this day too marks the beginning of something new.
“I am happy that we finally have this kick-off meeting”, Max says raising his glass. “We could not have done it without our founding heroes Sally and Alice.” Sally blushes slightly, but feels conflicted about Max’s flattery. The truth is that she is deeply conflicted about Max. On the one hand: he is new, seems likeable, and is not a bad speaker. On the other hand she just feels upset: why wasn’t she offered his position? She is not sure what she can expect from him. Is this really going to work, did we really need to attract someone external to the company to lead this new team? Isn’t that something she could have done?
Sally fleetingly looks at Paul standing next to Max. Paul started here around the time she started too, some five years ago. Paul is a good guy. Sally remembers stepping into his office several months ago together with Alice to convince him that they should start a new team. He listened to the both of them and gave them ample space to make their case. All of that effort finally led to this kick-off moment.
“Two years ago, no one could have dreamed that this app, made during a three day hackathon, would become so successful. Sadly, everyone who initially worked on it has moved onto different pastures. The fools”, Max winks. A few of the attendees release some nervous laughter.
“Apps were not our core business, so this project has shifted hands at least three times as I’ve picked up in my short time being here. No longer will this be the case as finally we have a dedicated team consisting of the five of us. Today we kick-off team Phoenix!”. Like everyone else, Sally claps. She raises her glass and gulps down the bitter champagne.
Sally sees Paul step forward: “I just want to add that although apps are indeed not our core business, we do see the traffic that the app generates contributes a great deal to our baseline. I am really happy and proud to have been part of this effort to get this team off the ground, with indeed a special nod to Sally and Alice who brought this potential to my attention initially.”
That’s what she wanted to hear. Paul’s open endorsement combats the bitter taste in Sally’s mouth: his words actually mean something to her. Still, why did he hire Max for the lead position?
A Short Party
As Sally lets Paul’s words sink in, Tim walks up to her.
“Can I get you a refill?”
“Uhm, I am good … on second thought, can you swap it out for a coke?”
Tim nods and together they walk off to the nearby fridge.
“How’s your first week?”, Sally asks.
“Yeah, it’s nice here, I really like the project and some of the new technologies I will get to learn. I hope to really make a difference here.”
“If your technical interview was any indication, that should not be a problem. Happy to hear you like it so far!”
Unlike for Max, Sally had been involved in Tim’s interview process and was impressed by his solid technical skills. Even though he had a string of short-lived start-ups on his resume, his down to earth mentality jelled well with both her and Alice. Sally realized that a capable devops engineer is crucial for stabilizing an app like this. There are few of those. Hence, Tim was an easy hiring recommendation for her.
Sally is in the middle of her next question when Bob interrupts them. Without so much as acknowledging her presence, he flips open his laptop in front of Tim and starts pointing at a graph on the screen.
“Do you see this Tim?”
The awkwardness of the situation does not escape Tim as he briefly makes eye contact with Sally before walking off with Bob.
“Sorry, it looks like we are having a production problem”.
Sally let’s out a deep sigh as she twirls around the last bit of coke in her glass while she paces around the fridge. Alice approaches her.
“You look like you’re in deep thought”, Alice says. “Happy with the kick-off so far?”
“Yeah, I guess so”, Sally replies while she shrugs.
In the next post we will fast forward into the future to two weeks after the kick-off meeting to see where Max, Sally, Alice, Bob and Tim, a.k.a. Team Phoenix, stand.
- Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.
- Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The Fearless Organization.