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A Measure of Your Team's Health: How You Treat Your "Idiot" 255

Esther Schindler (16185) writes "Every team has someone who at the bottom of its bell curve: an individual who has a hard time keeping up with other team members. How your team members treat that person is a significant indicator of your organization's health. That's especially true for open source projects, where you can't really reject someone's help. All you can do is encourage participation... including by the team "dummy.""
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A Measure of Your Team's Health: How You Treat Your "Idiot"

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  • Depends (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ravaldy ( 2621787 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @01:46PM (#47147869)

    Some organizations are large enough and organized enough to help employees grow in their current and future roles but some are too small and cannot afford the down time as they require expertise right away.

    That said, in my experience individuals who struggle to get to the level of competence required are more loyal employees hence a reduced cost of employment long term. They are also more accepting of a slower career path.

    My 2 cents.

  • by Collective 0-0009 ( 1294662 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @01:50PM (#47147911)
    As soon as I read this paragraph, I stopped listening to anything she had to say:

    I’ve been very lucky. Over the past several decades, in different industries and roles, I’ve worked on quite a few teams that seemingly had a perfect balance of skills and personalities. That’s not to say that every project was successful – outside influences sometimes made them fail – but the experience always was deeply rewarding.

    You catch that? The only time one of her projects has failed in decades, it was due to external reasons. Nope, not her fault, or the team, but "them".

    I am willing to bet she has that same attitude about the people on her team. Nope, not her fault, but the "idiot" on the team. She was probably the idiot a few times, but was unable to recognize her own odor.

  • by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @01:59PM (#47147951)
    I've had the delightful experience of being treated as the team idiot simply for declaring that the emperor had no clothes. It was one of those death march instances where a company decided to write a "version 2.0" of their extremely good program from the ground up. They brought in extremely skilled and expensive technical leads who developed a complicated new back end that was designed to be as "infinitely versatile" and then deployed a front end to match. The result was that they took a very good user experience and turned it into an arcane and slow -- but insanely flexible -- system. Client users absolutely hated the preview releases because they simply didn't let them do their work. I was the unlucky sap who had to provide feedback to the dev team. I decided not to pull punches and deliver a factual summary. The end result? The project lead declared that, "The consulting team simply doesn't understand how the system works" and proceeded to try to ice me out of the company. The organization ultimately failed because the project was such a mess. Unpleasant, but I'm glad I stood my ground and called a spade a spade. It took a while to regain my confidence after that, but my subsequent projects have all been successful and even award winning.
  • Different skillsets (Score:5, Interesting)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @02:00PM (#47147961) Homepage Journal

    I've worked on teams with a variety of skillsets over the years ranging from fresh-out-of-college new grads to seasoned "dinosaurs" with 50 years experience. Everyone had something they were good at and could contribute to the project, though many times what they could contribute wasn't technically the role they were hired for.

    There was only one exception: a fellow way back in the early '90s who got a job on the project I was on because he'd supposedly done programming for AT&T after graduating from Bowling Green.

    The first time we reviewed his code, we realized it was bullshit. Before every single stdio function call, there was a "#include <stdio.h&gt" statement. Every single call!

    Further investigation proved that his degree was a fraud -- Bowling Green had no record of any student by his name.

    Despite that, he was stuffed in a corner and allowed to "work" the remainder of his six month contract by "reviewing" documentation and marking spelling and grammar corrections with a red pen.

    He couldn't even do that -- his English sucked.

    But firing him would have put the company at risk of a lawsuit, so they had him make the documentation binders.

    So even the worst team idiot can do something "useful" if you've got no choice but to keep them busy with something. :P

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02, 2014 @03:54PM (#47149009)

    Mod parent to top. I'm in my 50s now, and in a management role in a fairly well-known British financial software development firm. The idea that you can rank people on some one-dimensional scale is laughable bullshit - not much more sophisticated than the phrenology of yore. My job is to find out how people work, and to give them what they need to make them thrive.

    It is extremely rare for me to find someone who is genuinely dull - I'm much more likely to have a group of closed-minded people who think the "different" guy is stupid, only to find out a year later that he's a stellar performer given the right conditions. I'll go so far as to say sometimes it's straight prejudice: a few years ago we had a top graduate with very little programming experience who was constantly asking questions. He was also black and his English wasn't very good - two things that were mentioned more than once in the office by others when he wasn't around, as part of discussions suggesting that he lacked competence. Fast forward to today, and he's leading a team of financial modellers. He still slips up on engineering, but he's one of the most mathematically talented chaps we've had. He's much better at communicating than he once was, but it's really a case of his brain not thinking the same things are "obvious" that other people think are so. I've heard no nasty remarks on his heritage anymore, either - which, in a team full of public-school-educated white boys, is my idea of progress.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gmack ( 197796 ) <[gmack] [at] [innerfire.net]> on Monday June 02, 2014 @04:54PM (#47149565) Homepage Journal

    Agreed. I have seem some devs treated badly who turned out to be pretty good developers once people stopped treating them like crap. I also had one kid fresh out of university who needed some hand-holding for his first few months while he gained some experience and gained some self esteem who turned out to be a one of the best programmers I've ever worked with.

  • Re:Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02, 2014 @05:31PM (#47149879)

    Really? And here I thought programmers, especially the ones companies are afraid to let go, were the paragons of human empowerment, dispellers of unjust prejudice and generally seekers of higher communion with their fellow peers, lifting everyone to unprecedented levels of infinitely-looped feedback loops of learning and earning of epic proportions.

    Companies are afraid to lose these, so as to miss out on all the value-add, right? Right??

    OTOH, maybe if companies actually treated their devs with respect, more of us would want to touch it with something other than long telescopic pitchforks. If we could be allowed to have some pride in our work and have some degree of freedom for creative and innovative outlets, IT could yield more as an investment, rather than the cost center incompetent managers view it as today.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mindriot ( 96208 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @05:52PM (#47150065)

    There are cases to be made for the advantages and efficiencies of all approaches, but, generally, you need to be a strong development team to carry and build up the weaker team members - if everybody is too focused on product and producing to care about helping their fellow team members to improve, your team is overtaxed (too weak for the job at hand) and probably not able to perform well (provide a reliable living wage for the developers while producing and maintaining the product) in the long term.

    Yeah, I think that is the important -- and only -- message here. From the summary:

    How your team members treat that person is a significant indicator of your organization's health

    This, and only this. If your organization is doing well on the market, and very successful, it can afford to treat their "idiots" well. If times are rough, and everybody is struggling hard to get things done and achieve success, this will stop. In other words, if you're treating your "idiots" badly, it's probably because you're already in deep shit.

    However, the converse is not necessarily true: it does not follow that just because you're nice to your "idiots", your team will be successful. Sadly, as much as I'd like to interpret such a feel-good message into TFA, I'm afraid it probably doesn't work that way.

    My personal experience seems to indicate that yes, you do want to treat your "idiots" well simply because everybody likes a good work climate, and nobody likes assholes. And personally I'd rather not do as well but at least know that I'm not acting like an asshole trying to beat the team into performing better. But in the end, what motivation and performance you can instil in your "idiots" is unlikely to match what you could achieve by replacing them with individuals that are more capable of doing the required work.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02, 2014 @06:23PM (#47150319)

    Some food for thought:
    As someone who identifies myself very much with "asperger's", I bet I'm often viewed a bit as "the village idiot", or in this case "the team idiot".

    On a 5h test, both for logical skills and personality, I almost maxed out my score. So I landed my first job having them almost begging me to come work for them, even allowing me an instant raise. I was the only one hired that day.

    Please note: I don't consider myself genius, just: "different". In some situations, especially social ones, I truly and genuinely SUCK ASS. In others, I may excel and provide deep and intuitive insights.

    In practice over several years, I've found what I have to contribute at companies is to be "different". I'm not willing to churn out soulless amounts of "fast food" code-lines for companies. My passion is reserved for something I believe in, ie. hobby projects, volunteer work, etc.. However, I am willing to administer and manage, so as to set the right course of direction for action to be taken, an area which I have over time proven to really excel at.

    People are often dumbfounded by me giving them unexpected advice, and since my advice almost invariably surprises them, I guess I almost force them to view me as "the idiot always who goes against the obvious truths".

    In my life, I've learned that this is just who I am. Almost invariably, after 1, 5, 10, even 15 years, I am most often proven right, having been "before my time". I've learned to accept that the ridicule and wave-handing from people is just because they are blind to what I see.

    What is astounding to me is that people are very often only willing to listen to what they already know. How can they expand their perspectives then?
    People calling themselves "sceptics" are often the most close-minded people. People who will never contribute a single insight, discovery or invention their entire lives!

    Yet, somehow, such herd behaviour is somehow "acceptable" in society, while project after project, organization after organization hits the same walls over and over again.

    Einstein said it: "The definition of insanity must be trying the same things over and over again, expecting different results". Yet, somehow this is acceptable behaviour in too many places!

    I'm happy to have found work that feels fulfilling and genuine. However, my true passion is helping others. Just remember that that "idiot" may see things differently than you for many various reasons. Truly, what we think of others, and of measurements be they linear, non-linear, multi-dimensional or mystic, often just reflect on ourselves.

Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject -- the actual enemy is the unknown. -- Thomas Mann