The Purpose of Your Team

If there is one activity that you should always be revisiting with your team, it’s their purpose.  Even now, especially now, with your team disrupted, its a great opportunity to take 15 minutes and think about what your team’s purpose is and how they are executing towards that vision.

You will not need complicated presentation decks or spreadsheets.

You will not need to take an afternoon off and go on a spiritual retreat.

A purpose is what gives your team a line to follow, a direction to go and a way to point the ship.  Without it, your team (and you) are responding to the whims and needs of others on an ongoing basis and never really developing beyond their current path.  You are there for others, but not for your most important asset, yourselves.

To get started, all you will need is, yourself, alone and 15 minutes to ask yourself these questions.

What are we currently working on?

Is it the best use of our abilities?

What should we be focused on?

What do we need to do to get there?

What would our next step be?

That’s it, five questions.  Maybe you want to jot down your answers, maybe you want to go through each member of your team (and yourself) or maybe you just want to debate the topic in your head back and forth.  However you do it, it starts with those five questions in figuring out your purpose.

Your initial answers will likely surprise you and worse you might not be happy with the results.

Good, that’s the idea.

If you’ve never done this, then your team most likely has no purpose so now is the time for you to put that short and long term vision together and come up with what it should be.  Once you have your own thoughts on the matter, share it with your team, get their feedback on what they want to do, where they want to go, and what they see as the challenges and roadbocks in front of them.

You might find that they want to set the bar higher and do more than what you have “conservatively” written out and/or vice-versa, perhaps you are pushing too hard, too fast.

Good, that’s the idea.

Get everyone on the same page, layout a plan and make it happen.

Then, the next time you do this, you’ll have something to look back on to see if your team is still executing to this purpose and whether they are on track.  Once you get into the habit of doing it, you’ll notice you’re doing it every month and course-correcting as you go to make it work with the new variables that are thrown out at you.

Good, that’s the idea.

Want more? Check out my book Code Your Way Up – available as an eBook or Paperback on Amazon (CAN and US).

The New Job Perks

Two months ago, companies were falling over each other to implement and deliver as many perks as possible to get their teams to stay on-site as often as possible.

  • In-house massage therapists
  • Individualized catering
  • Gym memberships
  • Fancy chairs
  • Fancier desks
  • Bean bags
  • Fully stocked fridges and fruit bars

And now these companies are realizing that as many of these perks sit idle, they are left to identify and focus on the perks that truly matter to their teams, the ones that will always be there regardless of whether they are working remotely or on-site.

Whereas before everyone clambered to book the room with the best SMART board and room conferencing services, now everyone is trying to figure out which background works for them, whether they should show on the call as video, are they going to have virtual beers at the end of the week or what tool will they use today for conferencing with clients.

The bubble you had to define your perks have shrunk. Coupled with the priorities (and rightfully so) shipping of orders – getting those 17 ergonomic chairs to your team aren’t going to be of their most urgent priorities.

To get through this new world order, Leaders are going to have to focus on a New set of Perks. These will include;

Challenging and Motivating Work

Right now your team is most likely struggling with comparing their work to the bigger picture that is happening all around them. Your role is to help them see the value and draw the lines so they can see their path forward. If what you deliver has never been the driving fact for people joining your team before, you are about to find out very quickly what drives them.

Developing that Team Culture

Whether you had a team culture before, you have one now and it’s steeped in the environment that is building it. You can either let the environment steer it completely or you can lead the way and show your team what this culture will be. What your role is and theirs. Maybe you’ll start having weekly “virtual coffees” to make sure everyone is doing well or maybe you’ll dress up for meetings to get a quick laugh.

Authentic Appreciation

There are so many systems in place for appreciating what your team does that sometimes they can feel like they are there for so many other things and you are simply being grouped into them – “did you do something great? Awesome, let’s wrap it into this celebration on Friday we are already having with everyone else”.

Now those appreciation events are going to change and what will be changing, as a result, is getting back to the way they used to be – when they were authentic, real and directed towards the person that mattered to them most. That’s not going to be an easy switch, but it’s one that will be worthwhile.

The New Job Perks are what you have to work and although they seem like common sense, they’ve been missing for awhile, getting back to them isn’t easy, but maybe that’s the point – if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Want more? Check out my book Code Your Way Up – available as an eBook or Paperback on Amazon (CAN and US).

Becoming the Self-Organizing, Self-Managing Team

One of the best pieces of feedback I ever received when leaving an organization was – “The team is running fine on it’s own, I don’t think we’re going to need to hire someone to replace you.”

At first glance, I did feel that familiar twinge of failure that made me feel as though my position was not as valuable as I once thought it was and because of that they thought – why replace dead weight?

Upon further thoughts (and deep breathing), I came to realize that this was in fact the opposite. What I had become a part of was a self-organizing team that could self-manage on their own and no longer needed direct leadership on a daily basis.

I’d like to say getting there was easy, but it wasn’t, it took close to two years to get there and it took a lot of working with the team, establishing trust, committing to a vision and realizing that everyone was in it together to make it happen.

We had our setbacks, but we made sure we always learned from them and got better.

When I think of this success there are a number of things we did that made it possible;

  • If one person was staying late, everyone stayed late – we were always in it together.
  • Regular one-on-ones helped the team to trust me and me to trust them, as well as identifying where I could help them out with their goals of what they wanted to work on.
  • No matter the release, we knew where we were headed and everyone knew their roles. Our roles evolved between projects, but who did what, we were always clear on.
  • We celebrated the failures together – too many examples to list here, but when something went wrong, there was always something that went right that got us there. Realizing these was what made us stronger.
  • Learning was a focus of our team – everyone was always learning and as such that required sharing that learning with everyone.
  • Process was minimal – we did what was needed to get the job done – we kept it simple.

There are probably a few other rules, but early in the process, I think the greatest success was when we boiled it down to one statement that idealized not only what we were building but also who we were. This statement became our mantra and whenever faced with a decision, we always evaluated based on which category it fell into. If it didn’t fall into any of these categories, we turfed it.

Keep It Simple. Keep It Sexy. Keep It Stable.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, the hard part is realizing that building your team into this can be better than you leading them.

Want more? Check out my book Code Your Way Up – available as an eBook or Paperback on Amazon (CAN and US).

The Next Generation of Leaders

I was having a conversation with a fellow colleague last week when they asked me what the skillset required for the next generation of leaders would be. The question took me aback as I tried to weigh everything we had just finished talking about in regards to team, leadership and culture with the current events of COVID-19 that are unfolding across the globe.

In thinking a little more on this, here is where I see the skills being needed for the next generation of leaders evolving to.

Emotional Intelligence

We’ve seen many, many examples over the past month as to leaders who can and those who can’t process emotional intelligence. Especially now where we are forcing many people to work remotely that even in the most perfect circumstances would not have been able to do this before. People are anxious about the unknown and they need a leader who will be able to balance delivery with compassion to help get them through this glut that they are now finding themselves in, through no actions of their own.

If you are struggling, there are some great articles out there to help you navigate this divide.

Data

Right now we are being inundated with data maps, infographics, youtube videos on the topic of what is happening. There is an insurmountable amount of data to consume and many organizations are working to help people to consume it. In addition, there are so many data points that this information is being used to direct when people can and should come back to the office or when restrictions should relax. Many of our world leaders are being criticized and/or praised for how they have consumed data and provided decisions and extrapolations with this information. As a result, many of today’s leaders are being driven by data more than they know in how they lead. Subsequently, it would not surprise me to see the next generation of leaders looking at data more closely then they did before.

Commit to Switch

It’s been awe-inspiring to see the number of firms that have switched their practices and processes to assist countries in need. Companies that were making cars are now making ventilators, those that made coats are now making gowns. This isn’t about disruption or innovation, this is about recognizing a need, committing to a switch and making it happen – not only for their customers but their internal teams as well. As we previously discussed, not only will analyzing data be important, but deciding what to do with that data will be ever more important.

Communities of Partnership

We have seen good and bad examples of community over the last few weeks. Whether it is the IT communities coming together to build new infrastructure to support the denizens of conference calls to support the world, this much is clear – one company can’t do it all. If everyone went to one platform, that platform would suffer, we are surviving because we are broken into communities and platforms and now more than ever those communities and partnerships are what are keeping us together as we lean on and look for support from those around us.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New

Lastly, you can’t be afraid to try something new. Teams that are having morning virtual coffees, or end of week beers or weekly game parties are solving problems rooted in everything we have just discussed – get people together to feel better, don’t let go of old traditions, commit to switches when required. Now is the time, the best time to try out new ideas and see if they work. Maybe what works for one company won’t work for yours, but maybe you trying will get someone else to showcase their own idea and that is the spark that we’re trying to keep going.

Want more? Check out my book Code Your Way Up – available as an eBook or Paperback on Amazon (CAN and US).

New Team Culture

Many who previously were never able to, never had the opportunity to or never considered it, are getting used to working remotely from their main office, away from their team.

The adjustment to working remote is not a simple switch that gets flipped et voila it all works perfectly. Like working in an office, working remotely is a change in culture as now all the behaviours you would use when working side-by-side with someone are now going to be replaced with a new set of behaviours multiplied across your entire team.

Not only is one of you working remote, you are all working remote.

With any team culture, there is no rule book to follow or plan to implement to get you through it all in one fell swoop. It takes time to establish and just as you did with your on-site culture, it takes patience as everyone finds their footing in what they are doing and how they are going to do it.

Assuming you have the team setup and running, here are a few tips/tricks you can do to make sure things are going smoothly;

  • Check in with everyone – yes we all have work to do, but that communication is key to ensuring that everyone is still part of the team and still working together.
  • Use Video (where possible) – for big meetings, I’d say no to video as the streams and bandwidth would easily add up. But for one-on-one or three to four people meetings, turn on the video so everyone sees you and encourage others to stay the same. It’s good to smile and laugh with someone.
  • Ignore the Presence Icons – I can’t take credit for this, but the guys at Basecamp make a great argument for not holding people to what their presence state says. We all go to the bathroom, we all have things that popup, if someone is marked away for a long period of time, trust them and leave it at that. It doesn’t matter what state they are in (and these tools do get it wrong).

And have fun with it, your whole team is most likely wondering how long this is going to last and no one has the answer. But what you can do is make it fun in many small, different ways. Something as simple as changing your status note to something goofy or shaving your beard, won’t get people excited and relaxed.

Code Your Way Up is available today for purchase as an eBook or Paperback on Amazon (CAN and US).

Where did it Start?

I’ve been asked this question a few times over the last months as Code Your Way Up has got closer to completion and is set to be GA (Generally Available) in the next two weeks.

I’ll try to boil this down to a few key points on where the idea came from…

  1. I’d been writing and blogging on technology leadership mindsets for a number of years, having written over 1,000+ articles in the last four years on the topic ranging from development, design, deployment, team leadership, growth, delivery, drive and everything else in between.
  2. A few years ago I did a significant amount of research on LinkedIn reaching out to a number of tech leaders to get their thoughts on the topic and see if there were experiencing the same trends that I was seeing – people not being prepared for leadership roles, but at the same time, companies not being able to invest in these roles.
  3. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to lead teams, push products out the door, mentor junior developers and coach other leaders along the way.

But the exact moment where it crystalized in my brain why I wanted to write this book? I was on a plane, to another conference, staring at the window, had loads of work to do that I was leaving behind, wondering whether I should be going away or if I’ll just be spending the time worrying about the team. To cap it all off, as soon as I landed, I had a project that I record myself doing, where I had to speak to what I was going to do next.

Not being the best at planning (I had two weeks to think about it), it wasn’t until I was on the plane that I started writing furiously to put together the elements that I think contribute to the makings of scary good technology leaders in our industry. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones that years later, you get together at a bar and you reminisce about how great they were and what they did for your career.

It was there that I realized being a leader didn’t start when you were promoted, it started when you dropped your first line of code, and every line of code thereafter is what would make you that leader.

So that’s where it started.

What does it take to Lead?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years as I took on new leadership roles or helped others realize that they to could lead.

Coupled with the fact that more often than not, the move towards leadership came about not because you were already “practicing” to be a great leader but rather because you were/are this energetic, relentless, amazing coder who always Delivers, always takes the Initiative, has the Drive to see things through to the end and never stops learning.

It has never been easy, there’s no manual on how to be a great leader, how to one day go from being a Peer to the next day being responsible for your what your team is shipping.

So I did the next logical thing I could think of.

I wrote a book – Code Your Way Up – it comes out in March 2020..

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Your First Team Meeting

Your first Team Meeting is your most important meeting you will ever hold.

It’s the meeting that will set the direction of your team for the coming days, weeks and months as you embark on your path as a new leader.

It’s not an easy meeting.

It’s not a “what’s everyone working on” meeting.

You probably have a number of items that you want to go over at your first team meeting.

  • Introduce you are
  • Walk through how you got here and what your accomplishments are
  • What are your expectations for the team
  • What goals do you want the team to accomplish

At the end of this you might then ask everyone for their viewpoints and suggestions on source control, coding standards or diagramming controls.

And just like that, you’ve lead your first team meeting in the worst way possible.

What did your Team Contribute to the Meeting?

We’ll get back to your part in a second, but what did your team contribute to this meeting?  Answers to the least important questions that will not affect their development and growth but rather their tactical implementation on your team.

Who cares if they use GIT or TFS or whether they used tabs vs 2 spaces or where they put their brackets.

When it comes to overall team development, no one cares. 

And these questions, these “worthy” questions, after you spent probably 15 – 20 minutes talking about what you have achieved, what you want your team to accomplish and what you expect from them?

The ideas are there, but it’s the execution that’s off.

By tweaking your message you show a different strategy, not necessarily in what you say (don’t worry, you’ll make mistakes) but in the order you place on discussing these items.

The Structure of your First Team Meeting

  • Who are you – Because everyone needs to know who you are before they here what’s next (I’ve forgotten to do this many times), but go light on your accomplishments.  If they want to learn more, they can read up on you on LinkedIn.
  • What do people think we do – Lay it out for them, this is what everyone thinks we’re responsible for – this is a statement
  • Do we really do that? – This is the first ask, is that how we really ourselves?  Is this what we really work on?  Don’t talk, get their feedback on everything else that we do.
  • Where Can I help? – If there is a misalignment, how can you help fix that perception.  If it sounds like they are overloaded, ask them how you can help, it could be simple (better test cases, clearer requirements, a water cooler, source control is garbage, etc).  Put the onus on you, what can YOU do to help them.

At the end of the first meeting, the only action items coming out of it should be from you and for you.  Your role is to help make their life easier.  If you have questions for them, follow-up with them later in the week in a one-on-one basis, for those that are hesitant to speak up, this may be a preferred option.

If you were to compare those messages, which meeting would you rather be a part of?

Everyone wants to be in the second meeting because it is baked with adoption, ownership and leadership.  The first meeting announces that you are the Manager, the second meeting sets the tones that you are the Leader (without dictating it) and you’re here to help wherever you can.

Once you get a handle on some of the quick fixes, next you can start talking to your team about expectations and goals for that quarter, year, etc.  Take the same approach as we did with the second meeting so that the message your team is hearing is – jump in, help me lead this team, I need your ideas, lets own this together – that’s a message that no one wants to ignore.

Finding Your Team’s Purpose

When was the last time you asked your Team Lead, Manager, Director what the purpose of your team is?

What your end goal is? 

What’s your raison d’etre? 

It’s a hard question to ask (because it assumes someone doesn’t know) but it should be a simple question to answer.

“We are building X for our customers”

“We deliver X for the company”

“We are focused on”

“Our goal is to help our organization identify our next priorities…”

Any of the above answers are a great start because they establish the one thing that every team needs to survive.

A Direction. 

Without a Direction, how do you know where you are going, why you are going there, and what you are going to do when you get there?

How often have you’ve been part of a team that was building a product that they didn’t know if the customer wanted?

Or didn’t know when they were delivering it?

Or didn’t know who was going to use it when it goes live?

A team without purpose is a team that will never deliver.

If you’re the Developer on a team where no purpose exists here are some things you can do to help figure it out;

  • Look at what you are doing, write it down – gather the data, draw the lines
  • Look outside your work, what are other people on your team doing?
  • What are your customers asking for?  Does it jive with what you are working on?

From there, you can be the one to start the conversation with your Manager.  Maybe they’ve been around for “so long” that they’ve always assumed what they are doing is their purpose, maybe they need a kick from you to really uncover what it is, or what they should be doing.

If you’re the Manager that is recognizing that your team’s purpose is lacking.

  • Look at all that you are delivering on your team.
  • Is this what you think they should be doing?
  • Is this what you want them to be doing?
  • It’s up to you now, establish their purpose, set their goals, get the team involved, have them own a part of it.

You can drive each approach, no one is saying no to you.

Many times, your team will not have a purpose, it will be an assumed function, a function that could be completely wrong and inherited from years of “okay, sounds good, we’re on it”.

You’re not there to keep the cycle running, you’re there to break it and implement the change necessary to turn your team around.

In both cases, whether you’re the developer or the manager, you don’t need to ask to find you’re purpose, but you do need to want to know the answer.

Shipping with Bugs

There are a few things wrong with our new site.

You might not be able to pick them out, but we can, some are more obvious than others.

But all of them stick out like a thorn in my side that I can’t get past even though our new site is vastly better than our previous one.

For the last few months, I hummed and hawed over whether to take down the Under Construction sign and release or keep it up while trying to resolve these last few issues.

If I adjusted the time that we were delivering on, I knew it would push back the release even further as the list would never end.

We shipped last week, it’s not perfect, there are some kinks to work out (some fixed this week), but we’re happy with the result and the lessons it taught us.

We’ve re-structured our site to focus on our main core competencies – Development, Leading and Learning.

DEVELOP

At our core, we deliver simple, scalable solutions.  We work with a variety of Government Departments and Private Organizations to deliver solutions on the Office365, Dynamics 365 and Azure stacks focusing on Data Driven and Contact Centre oriented solutions.

If you aren’t sure where to start with your next project or have some questions, drop us a line.

LEARN

We’re pleased to offer the general availability of our new Dynamics 365 Training programs.  These programs are born from the custom training modules we have done for customers over the past few years and the questions we get asked most often.

All attendees will receive access to their own tenant for the week prior, during and two weeks after our course to they can complete any Labs and/or revisit material.  In addition, we want to hear from you before your session starts to ensure you’re in the right program and the content we deliver will help you reach your goals.

LEAD

Our training programs and content delivery have not gone anywhere and instead are now being offered as customized offerings.  Whether you’re a Developer, Team Lead or Manager or Team – we can all use a kickstart to get going and become a more effective leader.

Our programs are a combination of mentoring and coaching designed to give you the jump you need to be a success.

We’re still tweaking things, but we’re looking forward to what we can deliver with you in 2019. If you’re interested in learning more, give us a call or email us.