Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!!

One thing I tend to do every mother's day is send out a text to all the contacts in my phone that I know are moms. This inevitably leads to a few awkward moments, but by and large it is really well received. A lot of people I work with in Development happen to be moms. All of them fulfill different roles, but they work hard, juggle life at home, life at work, team issues and the usual nuances - and they look at things differently. Because being a mom absolutely changes the way you see things, whether you like it or not.

I want to write about that change in perspective, because it is actually an incredibly valuable thing to have in a team. Moms look at things through a nurturing lens, they tend to see what is needed for the success of their kids and put that first. Of course, moms are human - but for humans, they come awful close to saints. Most of us have memories of our moms helping us out in some difficult time - primarily emotionally, but in other ways as well. In a team, there are many types of personalities present, but in my time and experience  I see three that really stand out - all of which are critical for success. The most easy to identify is the dominant personality - the alphas. These guys are leaders - born or made, they make decisions. And in doing so, with a full self aligned team they help thing move forward. There are people who want nothing more than to be left alone to do their work - but do not feel comfortable leading or making decisions. These I call betas - and they will carry the load and get work done for the team success. These two personalities are valuable, measurable and desirable in any IT organization, indeed there are lots of information on these two types. But there is a third type that I have seen, and they are difficult to quantify, justify and maintain - these people are the nurturers holders/fun makers of the team. These I call Gammas - and I have read a little about them, but not much. But seeing them, they remind me of moms a bit - and these I would like to expand a bit on.

Moms are good at a lot of things, but they are usually great at one thing only - love. I know that is a wide brush stroke (indeed, my mom would remind me she is a great physician) but by and large, they love the daylights out of their kids. However, most moms know they have to play a LOT of roles to be successful  They are nurses, teachers, diplomats, etc etc ad infinitum, depending on the needs of the family at hand. They have to be good at many things - sometimes at the expense of other things. Gamma personalities share this to a certain degree. Most people that I have worked with that I can quantify as gamma personalities are great at keeping things together and moving forward. They are fun to hang out with, silly when needed, extremely hard working when required - but when stress gets to a high degree, you can count on them to be working together with the team to diffuse the situation. Although this seems to be their most "valuable" asset, it by far is not the only one. Because when we speak of team cohesion and morale - they literally seem to be the axle/axix around which the team centers. But we don't pay or evaluate based on morale. Indeed, this is mostly considered a "soft skill" and is in NO ONES radar for measurement or compensation. But if your job happens to be putting teams together and making them work, well it really helps to listen and observe to be able to do this with the other teams/clients you are trying to help!

From what I have seen, given that the last paragraph points to the hiring values many organizations have, it seems that "luck" plays a large part in finding these people within an organization or team. Because, with the value system in place, these guys have a hard time being considered for addition to a team. Like when we were kids in a park, when teams form, we want the fastest, hardest hitting, tallest strongest guys in our team. As children, it is what we value. No one thinks of having the funniest guy on your kickball team! Or the smartest for tag. So it is with corporations and IT departments. We want the "best technical skillset" or the "Most Promising Architect" and the values that we use to measure this have absolutely nothing to do with how they behave with others. Because we want ONLY the best. And other people will have to work with this - they will "figure out a way to cope". When this happens, it makes everyone uncomfortable. And this is where your gammas come in. Hopefully, you have a few in place - and if you are lucky, you have them in the same team with Mr. End All be All.

So - gammas help people get along, they make a team a better place to work, they literally get along with everyone - but at what cost? At the cost of not being perceived as "critical" or "top notch" to the organization. Every high performance team I have worked with has had a gamma - and every time, the gamma is the guy at the end of the team. The lady that is not a "top skillset" lady. The one that takes on support roles. And I have also seen that the same team, with the removal of the gamma, instantly starts having issues. The guys who "just wanted to code" all of a sudden can't stand that "overbearing self righteous architect". Now it seems they want to lead, or be left alone. The Team Lead starts to get tired of "carrying the team on his back" and having to make ALL the decisions - he now wants to be left alone. Until a new structure comes in place. Like when mom leaves you and your brother (or your sister) with you...

So - not sure what can be done to identify and value gammas. Much like there is no way to quantify and pay what mom does. But you do feel it when she is not there - and the team feels it when they have no one to hold them together. There shoudl be a way to look at this kind of people, identify the ones that are great at it - and recruit for them. There could be a way to do it,. But in the meantime, if you have someone like this on YOUR team, please let them know they are appreciated and valued. Don't tell them someone blogged that "they were not great at everything but they had value"!! But do remember that without them, things can and will fall apart. Give them a pat in the back, and call your mom. Happy mother's day!

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