I managed and led software teams for over a decade before I made the transition to coaching software development leadership. In that time, knowing what the team is working has been a challenge. Often we resort to status meetings, standups, “fake agile”, and any technique to discover just what people are working on. We have often heard teams referred to disparagingly as “managing a herd of cats”. To me this is unfair.
My nephew is working on his first digital media start-up. As a young man there is a lot of this seventeen-year-old to learn. I am doing my best to help guide him and keep him to task. We had a conversation recently where he told me: “I want you to know I am working. I am working hard I swear. How else are you going to know I am working”. My reply: “I will know you are working when you come to me with more ideas than I come to you with”.
The work is not about the labor in the modern knowledge based economy. The work is about the knowledge and the thought. I am reminded of building a large team a few years back where I negotiated for people in a large enterprise. The number one question was: “How many hours do you need?” My answer, always the same, I don’t need your labor, i need your mind. I need you mentally dedicated. The hours don’t matter. The result, most people ran in fear!
You see it is easy to commit to tasks and to hours in a week but to commit the mental energy to thinking about a project and internalizing a project that is a large ask. I take this into management of teams as well. Certainly, looking out output works but the output is at the end. How do we know if a team is really working? We know by the quality, breadth, and depth of the ideation around the conversation. You will recognize this as you will be struggling to keep up!
Focus eliminating obstacles from your team and focus on increasing your teams ability to dedicate their minds to the project at hand and you will see incredible work. In fact, it is often more productive to allow a team member a week of wandering on a side-venture just to keep the mental energy flowing. A creative team with their minds dedicated to the work at hand is the most productive team you will ever see. Matrix is bull-shit. Demand mental dedication!