Team Building For Tech Companies

Why Team Building Is Important for Tech Companies

Have you ever seen a job posting for software developers along the lines of “Rockstar Programmer”, “Javascript Ninja”, “Python Wizard”, or any other variation on some mythical creature?

Please, HR managers, stop doing that.

It’s embarrassing.

These are highly trained, highly skilled individuals. The least you could do is treat their title with some respect. Even though personally I’m not a huge fan of job titles, I find it weird that we’ve given these titles to developers. I understand that it’s all for the sake of looking cool, or acting like you have a really fun work environment, but fun job titles don’t make your culture.

A lot of managers, especially those that don’t have much technical experience, make the mistake of looking for this “Rockstar”.

I’m here to let you in on a little secret.

There is no such thing as a rockstar programmer…
… but there is such a thing as a rockstar team.

This is why team building is so important.

The Myth of The Rockstar Programmer

This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the software world. It’s so important, that it’s worth repeating what I said earlier.

There is no such thing as a rockstar programmer, but there is such a thing as a rockstar team. Even the legendary Scott Hanselman agrees that the rockstar programmer is just a myth.

One single person, no matter how talented he or she is, can’t possibly cover every part of the development effort, and of course this problem gets bigger as your software becomes more complex. This is known as Brooke’s Law.

What you truly need is a unified, cohesive team that not only works well together but complements each other’s skills. This can actually be much harder to do than you might think, but it’s so important.

If you’re not the tech lead for the company, work with whoever is in charge of the developers to try and tackle this problem. Chances are the tech lead will know all of the different strengths across the team and see what (if anything) is missing.

Another serious issue that not too many people think about when calling someone a “Rockstar” is that it actually demoralizes the rest of the team. They start to feel less important, and less valued, and so their work will start to suffer. This eventually ends up putting even more pressure on the “rockstar”, and you ultimately end up with a messy coding environment.

Keep in mind that team building is done for the long term. You need to think about how to put a certain type of infrastructure in place so that this will last for a long time.

Cool. So How Do We Start Team Building?

Now that you’re totally convinced that team building is the greatest thing since sliced bread, you might be asking yourself:

How can I do this effectively for my organization?

The answer is, it’s really part of your overall culture. The first thing you need to make sure of is that you have an amazing culture, unfortunately, 99% of corporate cultures are stuck in the past.

maybe the wolf of wall street had a crazy company culture, it's not traditional ... at all.

We’re pretty obsessed with culture and improving workplaces here, so I’ll share some advice that has worked for us.

  1. Be Transparent. I really can’t stress how important this one is. Two companies leading the charge with their radical transparency are HubSpot and Buffer. When you show employees that you trust them enough to be open and honest, they will respect you and work harder for you. Remember, trust is a two-way street.
  1. Avoid Micro-Management. This one seems fairly obvious, but it’s so damaging, and I’ve seen so many companies get this wrong, that I figured it was worth mentioning. This goes back to point number 1 about trusting your employees. If you’re micro-managing them, it’s a clear sign that you don’t trust them enough to do this on their own.

Once you have a good culture in place, I would recommend doing activities like going out for dinner with the team (depending on how big the team is), organizing a happy hour (or as we like to call it in Montreal, a 5-à-7), or maybe just take some time in the office to have an informal chat.

I once had a CEO take all of us (30 employees) up to his cottage for the weekend for some team building. We went waterskiing, wakeboarding, swam in the lake, relaxed by the fireplace. It was one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever had, and it brought all of us so much closer together.

Don’t create a work only environment. It’s important to have a little fun too!

Team Building Is Also Good For The Employer

There are many advantages to the employer as well to having a strong, unified team. Stronger, tighter teams are harder to break up, and in this war for talent (which is very real) it’s more important then ever.

First, you’ll see a massive increase in productivity. The team will be flowing, and feeding off of each other. Your job as an employer is to step out of the way and let them run. You’ll also have more loyal employees, and you’d be surprised how many managers don’t appreciate this.

The average employment duration for millennials is 2.6 years. If you want your company to succeed you need to give them a reason to stay longer than that. Lastly, you’ll see an overall improvement in culture, which in the end will attract more talent your way.

If you’re looking for a good example, look at how Google built their organizational culture. This might be cliché by now, but in my opinion there is no better company out there.

What most people don’t appreciate is how much effort went into keeping their culture strong while scaling so quickly. That’s so much harder than you might think.

What team building activities do you do at your company?

Your turn now. What do you do at your office? Retreats? Lunches? Peer recognition activities? Let me know your thoughts on twitter @JacobShriar or @Officevibe.

Sidenote – You’ll notice that in this post I never used the word “engineer” to describe software developers. I wanted to appeal to a larger audience. Here’s a fun fact for you in case you didn’t know. The difference between a software engineer and a software developer is that the engineer actually has an engineering degree from a university. I personally don’t believe that an engineering degree is necessary. The most talented developers that I know are all self-taught. I like to think of all developers as being more like Code Pigs than anything else.

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