Communication, Developer growth, Teams

Open Letter to that Lone ‘Team Player’

Dear Lone ‘Team Player’,

Welcome to our team. We care about working together and improving as a whole. We know there are some challenges with the codebase, but are gradually improving as we deliver functionality.

We hear you’re extremely skilled at X, Y and Z, but we’re not familiar with those, yet. That looks like an awesome approach to solve problem B, but we only have problem A at the moment. Perhaps some time when B comes up?

We appreciate your eagerness to wade through the codebase and refactor things. We agree to many of your approaches, but you’ve just introduced bugs throughout the system. Would love to hear about your ideas before you make changes though, perhaps we can learn together?

Thanks for working hard and not giving up on that task alone for the past 3 days. It shows a lot of dedication. Too bad you’re still stuck. We would appreciate if you’d come to us a little earlier, say after 20 minutes, so we could help you understand why some decisions were made. We’d love to pair or mob with you.

You were unlucky with that bugfix you pushed out to production. The good news is that you solved the case for those customers in question. The bad news is you broke it for all the others. Mistakes happen, but rushing out that fix was a bit hasty. Please ask for help next time. We care about our customers and this could have easily been avoided if someone else on the team was involved.

So, you introduced X, Y and Z into our codebase. Looks really exciting, but you’ve now introduced new technologies we aren’t fluent in. This is going to slow the team down. Could we please discuss major changes like this? We would love to learn, but would prefer to be included.

No, we aren’t dinosaurs, but we appreciate the value we are able to deliver with the platform we have. We care deeply about every developer here, so please stop badmouthing others just because you don’t like their code.

Thank you for your efforts. You are clearly a skilled developer, but the values of our team aren’t aligned with yours. We wish you the best in the future.

  • I love this letter. Can relate to it 100%, and I’m guilty in some of the aspects as well. Lovely

    • I like to think that we are all guilty of some or all aspects here during our careers. Awareness around this is equally valuable for those “Loner’s” out there, as it is for team players.

      We can all play a part in helping each other do better.

      Thanks, Vidar

  • I believe this type of approach gives excuses for too many. I observed many times that normal programming language constructs are called “things we are not familiar with” and “technologies we aren’t fluent in”. The exact point where caring about codebase goes to resistance to change, unwillingness to learn and pure rant is lurking in these words. Bug fix that went to production and broke the system for everyone means not enough testing. “Badmouth” usually means that the code quality is low and there is no sign of improvement and even willingness to admit that it is not well-written and needs some refactoring, even worse at times when the new code is being written by people that have “senior” in their title but the only thing senior about them is the age, are writing the new code using constructs like “if (something == false) return true else return false”. I am sure you know what I am talking about. And I am sure that you have to fight with yourself when going from being a good developer to somewhere where you have to manage people and you have to do it Norwegian way. We also know that many developers around us would have no chacge in places like the Valley and we see that products on the market are of low quality, especially when talking about .NET – think of Visma, SuperOffice and such. As the result the mediocre and low quality becomes a de facto standard and everyone seem to be happy to pay a few thousand of kroner to buy a piece of software that crashes on install (own experience).

  • One more comment from my side, which is not related to the actual issue that is being discussed.

    My question is how an emphatic approach correlates with a perfect example of passive-aggressive in this letter?

    • Hi Alexey, I think I understand your question but not how it relates to the language or the message in the letter. This could quite well be related to my limited understanding of passive-aggressiveness. Would you care to help me understand by expanding on some concrete examples?

      • Well, passive-agressive is completely opposite to anything related to empathy. Generally speaking, this is an absolute sarcasm, which clearly your letter displays in its purest form 🙂

        • Yes, got it!

          The format of the letter is quite deliberate:
          – “Hit” people with a message that empathy, communication, team-skills are important to internalise, practice and appreciate.
          – Make a difficult subject easier to approach in a light-hearted way.
          – Experiment with formats, wording and style.

          To understand the format though, you also need to take the intent and message behind the letter into consideration.

          The intent of this post is to raise awareness for the individual that enters a team and cannot get their heads around the teams dynamics, history or way of working. How they are responsible for themselves, their mindset and approach to that team. The team needs to do their part in welcoming the individual, embracing the ideas and at the same time continue to deliver value. Which I also attempt to capture.

          There are other ways to write a post on this topic, and I have and will continue to experiment with different approaches to communicating around this topic.

          In many ways, showing empathy for my readers and the potential Lone ‘Team Players’ out there is the driving force of the format.

          I hope that addresses your question in regards to how an empathetic approach actually can manifest itself into a humoristic / light-hearted / sarcastic post. I guess it’s up to you and other readers to decide if the result matches the intent. 😊

  • “Karen proposed a new design, based on technology she’d used during her internship. Her co-workers were unfamiliar with the new technology and considered it too risky. Karen dropped her proposal without discussion. She wanted to write code and build systems, not have pointless arguments.”

    “Karen discussed the meeting with one of her teammates afterwards. She expressed dismay that the Director couldn’t see that his design was the root-cause of their problems. The teammate shrugged, and pointed out that they had delivered a really good service for the last five years, and had no interest talking about alternate designs with the director.

    Karen decided to head home early, and look for a new job. When she left, the company didn’t miss her. After all, she was “reckless, whiny and had a problem with authority”. They never realized she had the design that could have saved the product from the customer exodus that follows repeated outages.”

    • That is a wonderful and important article, I’ve read through it several times. Psychological Safety is extremely important, and is something I strive for in everything I do.

      I can see how one could draw a parallell between the referred to “Lone team player” and Karen, from that article. The examples of Karen in that article refer to a team without any sense of psychological safety. Nor an interest in appreciating the unique skills Karen is bringing to the table.

      In contrast the recipient of this letter (The Lone Team Player), is a person who is inwards and ego-focused. Not caring about the needs of the team, nor the value of bringing along the rest of the team with their ideas or in the context of the company.

      As I’ve mentioned previously:

      The intent of this post is to raise awareness for the individual that enters a team and cannot get their heads around the teams dynamics, history or way of working. How they are responsible for themselves, their mindset and approach to that team. The team needs to do their part in welcoming the individual, embracing the ideas and at the same time continue to deliver value.

      Any individual is responsible for their own selves, how they convey messages, and how to communicate change. When put in an environment where phsychological safety is a defining value, then a team will be willing to accept that person for who they are, and the value they bring. That doesn’t mean that the persons ideas are correct, it means providing the space and room to have a valuable discussion without detracting the value of the people in question. “Karen” needs that space.

      “The Lone Team Player” already has that space, but is not operating in it, rather avoiding including others in the team.

      • I agree, but this “letter” of yours still resembles the intercomio blog story, from another perspective, and it is a clear outlier to everything else you wrote. This is why I keep reacting to that, sorry 🙂