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2/18/2010
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Teamwork: It's About Trust, Not A Technique

It's all about trust and techniques.

Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene are the editors of Beautiful Teams: Inspiring And Cautionary Tales From Veteran Team Leaders. Dr. Dobb's editor in chief Jonathan Erickson recently interviewed Stellman.

Dr. Dobb's: What qualities define a "beautiful" team?

Stellman: There's no single magic formula to make a team work. One thing that can set the stage for an effective--even beautiful--team is that team members aren't afraid to fail. A team that's afraid of failure is a team that isn't going to take risks, and risk-taking is how innovation happens. Another quality is trust. If team members trust each other, then when one person goes out on a limb, everyone else won't have a knee-jerk reaction and pull him or her back. Finally, a great team has great leadership.

Dr. Dobb's: Is an ugly team "none of the above," or something else?

Stellman: Teams that might be considered flawed--people who don't get along, problems with the projects or their companies or the world in general, a complete lack of those great qualities that we just talked about--can still accomplish great things. This helped us see that the whole exploration of how teams work and what makes them tick is more complicated than we thought. There are lots of contradictions and messiness.

Dr. Dobb's: Can team tools turn an ugly team into a beautiful one?

Stellman: A good tool can help a good team be better. But if you've got a team that's deeply flawed, just adding a tool won't fix it. At best, it will help you make mistakes faster.

Dr. Dobb's: Can teams thrive in non-Agile environments?

Stellman: Absolutely. We've gotten so used to Agile practices like test-driven development, continuous integration, and constant communication between the team and users that we have trouble remembering that a lot of great software was built by great teams before these things had even been invented. Indeed, great software is still being built by teams that don't use Agile techniques.

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