23 January, 2010

What type of team are you? - Part I

In one my previous organizations’, I worked for 2 different teams during my ~3 years tenure. Let’s call them Team A and Team B. Team A was a vibrant team with highly energetic and motivated people with diversified experience and skill-sets. The team members included fresh college grads, people with couple of years of experience and a handful with good knowledge of customers’ usage of the product we tested.

Team A was led by a manager we’ll call Larry. What struck most about Larry was that he had faith in his team members (note that I don’t use the word ‘team’ here). He would talk to every team member at a regular basis about each one’s work, if there were any obstacles, if there was anything he could help with and so on. He organized team lunches/picnics/movies once in 2 months. He did all this while we worked a 70 hr work week. He came up with ideas to work differently to test the product better, but did not mandate to use his ideas alone. He was fine with people coming up with their own ideas as well. He encouraged people to have Disposable Time during office hours. He led by example.

Good Things don’t last forever. Isn’t it? I was moved to Team B for which I was originally hired. Team B was opposite of Team A. Team B consisted of testers who had been with the organization for 4+ years. People kept to themselves, some of them were short tempered and inaccessible. Some would even yell in public if you went with a question which they found to be silly. Some would never answer though they knew how to deal with it, but always pointed to a person who hardly knew anything about it.

Team B was headed by a manager named Rob who always carried a fake smile. I often wondered if his jaws didn’t hurt at all. I had a tough time getting information about the product in this team. Other than my reporting team lead, no one was willing to help. About 90% of the team members were unhappy with their raises just 1 month before I joined. They were obviously unhappy. What a bad timing it was for me?

To add to these woes, Rob walked around people’s cubicles without saying a ‘Hi’. His eyes were always on peoples’ monitors. Who is browsing what, who is not at their desk, how much time do they take during the allotted 1 hr lunch break, do they answer calls at their desk phone by their colleagues or not and many more.

It was appraisal time again. Cafetaria and the Table Tennis area are the best places to hangout post the performance evaluation phase. One gets to hear so many important things about the organization and its processes. I overheard an employee grumbling ‘My manager says on 11th Jan 2005, he came to my desk three times between 2pm and 3pm, but he didn’t find me at desk. He also says that I have been going for long lunches beyond the stipulated 30 minutes (btw lunch time lasts 1 hour in the employee handbook). He concluded that I am not being productive enough’.

The other employee replied reassuringly, ‘You know what? Your manager is still better. My manager says ‘I called you 21 times between 11am and 11.30am to your desk phone and you did not pick up the phone. Where on earth were you? He has my mobile number. I am surprised why he didn’t call to find out? I was at the hospital tending to my wife who suffered a miscarriage that day’. This is just 2 of the many conversations I have overheard or heard directly from the employees. 1 year later, the rate at which people joined team B was way too less compared to the rate at which people quit that team(and the organization) thanks to Rob.

If you are a team member, which team would you love to be in? A or B? If you are a manager, how do you manage your team? As Larry or as Rob?

Happy Working,
Parimala Shankaraiah