This is going to be the first in I am not sure how many parts about team building. Originally a discussion with a person who worked for me about 5–6 years ago (now not even at my company) and we talked about creating a podcast. But it is just something that will be a limited set and if I get the energy it will turn into a series of videos. But I go back to something I was told when I was younger, that I have the face for radio…. Now on with part 1. (Please note they will not be an any particular order, but based on what I was thinking at that time…) 

Recently I was asked what I do… and without much thought I stated, ‘I build teams and my teams create software.” Yes, I know that goes against the I make a living being myself, but I needed to respond with something that was a bit more substantial. But what makes a good team? Why do I have someone who worked with me 5+ years ago discussing how to build a team (and he is not the first.) 

I often relate teams to sports and raising children for the simple fact that we are dealing with human beings, and humans act in the same way whether it is work, home or at group type events (sports.) During my time as a parent, coach, and manager I always wanted to seem “approachable.” I remember when I first started at a financial firm, the senior manager said they had an ‘open door’ policy. One that anyone could walk in and talk to them. I took them up on it, and not only had some good conversations but created a friendship. Looking back, not many people took advantage of this, and I did. 

Why didn’t these people take advantage of this? Were they afraid of it? Could it be that many of the people who said “I have an open-door policy” actually mean it? Could it be they were never around for people to walk in? Or that anything brought up was shot down? That if they were challenged, they rejected that challenge? Does that manager push work down and over manage his/her employees that a challenge seems futile? I am sure you can think of another. 

Now to relate this to my personal life: My daughter is gay, and my wife and I guessed this long before she told us. And knowing others who have come out and told friends and family, I can see how difficult of a challenge it can be. I do know she did not openly tell us to a period of time after she figured it out, and why did she not do that. If a manager has an open-door policy, obviously parents should have one with their kids. Why wait so long, why wait so long to tell anyone. Well, the answer is simply fear. Children are afraid of the reaction and the possibility of being rejected. So, the person who manages children (the parents) has to make the child feel safe and confident that bringing this up to them without this fear. 

What does this have to do with team building? The first thing all teams need is to have this notion that all ideas, all thoughts can be brought up within the team without the fear of rejection. From the most Junior developer to the CTO there needs the ability to challenge, to question, to bring up ideas or just ask a question must exist. Not only must the door be open, but the team members must feel comfortable having these conversations. This is training both the people asking the questions as well as those who are listening, and more importantly how to respond. Responding often can be just “let us dig into it.” The use of “us” is key (yeah, the no I in team thing). Remember the key is not having to do what they ask, but to at least allow the discussion to happen and to reinforce to the person who brought it up, that is was great they did. 

This may go against some key ideas of management structure, that the boss demands things, and that passes down. There is that classic story of ‘hiring someone smarter than you’ — Well if you do that, you better listen to them, and ensure they are comfortable in challenging you. Or the theory, hire people in your blind spot, thus again they need to challenge you. 

Look at your team (which is company, family, activity) and ask the question do you have the culture of being open enough to listen? Have we removed the fear so that anyone who can improve us is willing to talk? Have we trained people to speak up? Do we reinforce even if ideas are rejected to continue to bring things up? 

These things are hard to do in a bubble, but it can be done. And although I try my best to do this, I sometimes make mistakes. I will always try to improve it. 

This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free. I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them

This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book. With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path. I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content. I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip. I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog.