The Importance of Team Geek – and Innovation

The Importance Of Team Geek - and InnovationHistory shows those who can collaborate most effectively prosper the most and no matter how good you are at your chosen craft  it pays to be skilled in working well with others. The book Team Geek, authored by two senior members of Google’s engineering team  is an excellent, highly readable and useful guide for software professionals – on collaboration, leadership and team work. You don’t have to be a geek to read this book but it may help…

The sub-title and simple summary of Team Geek is ‘a software developer’s guide to working well with others’. And showing the sharp project management credentials of the authors, Brian W Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman, it’s a book that even has a nice clear mission statement too; “The goal of this book is to help programmers become more effective and efficient at creating software by improving their ability to understand, communicate with, and collaborate with other people.”

And whilst Team Geek is written from a strongly technical engineer and software team perspective – the wise lessons, smart advice and clear thinking of Fitzpatrick and Collins-Sussman are relevant for anyone who needs to build effective work teams and innovation projects in complex environments.  This is a really useful book for ambitious software engineers and project managers – but it’s also a great addition to the learning of marketers, innovation teams and sales people too.

Collaboration is a big topic of the moment and its now an agenda item for many senior executives.  It covers both operating well across the organisation and the ability to work effectively with critical suppliers, partners, key customers and allies.

Recent research and papers published by General ElectricCap Gemini and Forrester have clearly and consistently highlighted that collaboration and partnership are the key to driving innovation. For those who have studied the history of entrepreneurship and successful development of ideas, commerce and science this is no surprise.  Writers such as Steven Johnson, William Bernstein, Scott Berkun and Tom Kelley all point out that innovation success extends from the smart exchange of ideas, technologies, networking and building of alliances. Team Geek is a very powerful addition to the work in this area and its unique in being written from a strong technical and engineering perspective.

Most importantly – and very early on, Fitzpatrick & Collins-Sussman quite rightly run the sword through the heart of one of the most popular myths of innovation – that great technical breakthroughs are reliant upon individual brilliance of the lone hero saving the day. They point out that the best software engineers ‘play well with others’ and that having smart coding and developer skills do not guarantee your personal reputation or project success. Instead it is the ability to collaborate, influence and work with others that determines career progress.  This thinking reflects the views of authors such as Steven Johnson, who famously says‘chance favours the connected mind’.

Despite the increasing need for it, most people are not very good at collaboration. Fitzpatrick and Collins-Sussman point out that just executing your job well, whilst excluding the needs of everyone else will see fewer opportunities opening up. This is summed up by one of many memorable lines  when they say that ‘working in isolation leads to disappointment’.

They also provide some useful tips and focus on the soft skills that are needed, which they summarise around three key pillars of teamwork and collaboration ..

HUMILITYRESPECT and TRUST.

To summarise, it’s a question of being more open to the ideas of others. Listening and realising you have to work with people from across the organisation. Success is built on connecting with others and building allies and supporters for your ideas. As they point out; ‘lose the ego and don’t come across like a know-it-all’. This is great advice for technically minded but I think a sound reminder for anyone else in business too. Whilst these  all sounds deceptively simple points of personal behaviour – these are easy to note but often difficult to achieve in highly competitive environments. It is also about leadership. Whereas management often worries about ‘how to get things done’, the leaders in the software industry and the best in organisations, focus on ‘what needs to be done’.  They focus not on being in control but on being a catalyst and a mentor.

finally examine the broader organisational issues and explain how collaboration and team work require patience and a degree of influence; such as understanding the politics and the cogs of the business. In this respect they mirror  the views and work of Morten T Hansen who brilliantly points out the need for ‘T-Shaped People’ in his book ‘Collaboration’. The valuable T-Shaped people are those who have both the technical depth of expertise PLUS the ability to work well across projects and network across an organisation, building the right focused conversations.

Overall – this is an excellent book, highly recommended to anyone with an interest in innovation, collaboration and leadership. Whether you’re a technical expert looking to build more influence, or a project manager or marketer who has to work with highly creative and talented people, this book provide some excellent guidance and practical tips to help you deliver more.

image credit: shop.oreilly.com

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Andrew Armour is the founder of Benchstone Limited, a London-based consultancy that helps brands and senior managers to plan, pioneer and sharpen their marketing and media partnership initiatives and innovation projects. His career has covered IP and brand licensing, promotions, digital content and business consulting.

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