One of the important things I work on every day is avoiding the “them versus us” sentiment that may once have been the norm between testers and developers. Although my dev team has long been pseudo-Agile, I am not embedded in the development team as a tester and so there is the opportunity to view each team as “the other” and form opinions that way. Thankfully, I work with some great folks who want to produce high quality software and who don’t want false assumptions to get in the way of that. We’re all rather likeable as geeks go and try to play to each other’s strengths.
When I was a co-op student during college, I decided to join my company’s Toastmasters group so that I would learn to be a better public speaker. What I didn’t anticipate was how well I came to know the other group members after hearing their speeches about topics that mattered to them. We were all rooting for each other to succeed at speech skill-building but what we did best was team-building.
Chit-chat is a less demanding and more readily accessible route for building bridges. When I find myself in a conversation about a topic I know nothing about, I enjoy it much more when my co-worker has a passion for the subject and is willing to teach me enough to appreciate his excitement. (I’m purposefully using the male article here since most of my co-workers over the years have been male.) The guys have talked me into joining the fantasy football league by lowering the perceived threshold of necessary knowledge and encouraging me to take risks. They like to tell me anecdotal evidence of novices winning the season (or at least doing surprisingly well) based on arbitrary methods like my selection of players whose names I liked.
While we don’t all share the same cultural shorthand, we make efforts to share each other’s interests. Television series and music are fair game, but I think movies are most germane to our history of developing software for the entertainment industry, especially movie theaters. Debating the merits of this character or that movie’s production value goes a long way toward smoothing any feather ruffled by defect reporting. This seems to be a particular favorite with our Creative team. We have occasionally had a company outing to the movie theater as well. We share links to articles or online deals relevant to each other’s hobbies. Webcomics are also a favorite, sharing humor from XKCD to Dilbert.
Other members of our team love more physically active pursuits and have put together hiking trips or lake outings. I have to be more careful about venturing out under “the daystar” with my pale skin, but I welcome the opportunity to get out of my routine. That’s usually the best way to get to know people.
Granted a new routine is easy to build. For a while, we had scheduled a Munchkin tournament over the course of many lunch breaks. After we burnt out on that game, many others followed, supplied by our resident board game and card game enthusiasts. For years now, we haven’t run out of options.
Finch: Do you have any hobbies?
Twimble: I’ve a hobby; I play gin with Mr. Bratt.
Finch: Mr. Bratt! And do you play it nicely?
Twimble: Play it nicely . . . still, he blitzes me
In every game, like that!
Twimble: ‘Cause I play it the company way.
— The Company Way, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Though I tend to do well the first time through when they coach me enough to get the hang of things, I don’t mind being trounced by more experienced players. Perhaps beating me at board games makes my constructive criticism more palatable? Either way, I don’t have as many opportunities for gaming in my personal life as I once had, so I enjoy it.
For those with colleagues less inclined to gaming, there are always the fascinating gadgets that entrance the early adopters. Sometimes we consider this research for work-related topics like mobile application testing, but the geek inside relishes this merely for the fun of it all.
As Andy Kaufman mentioned in his STAREast keynote, the more traditional route of asking after families, admiring photos of kids/grandkids, remembering birthdays, and the food – oh the food! – are available to all of us. Since I’m from the South, barbeque is the order of the day, any day of the week, around my office. Just be careful when professing your BBQ loyalties! You can stir up quite the debate that way.
At least we can all agree on the various baked goods that appear throughout the year. We had a baking contest with prizes at the office one year during the holiday season that was a threat to my waistline. My own contribution has occasionally made its appearance in the baking queue, but I prefer to tie the treats to a holiday: moonpies and bead necklaces for Mardi Gras, candy at Halloween, and the gourmet candy canes I bring to the annual Christmas party are legendary. Since I attended my first company Christmas party before I ever did a day of work, I knew I couldn’t show up empty handed and it was the logical choice, even if I got strange looks for flavors like blueberry. If there is ever a year that I show up without the candy canes, I would never hear the end of it!
I think the biggest part of all of this is to take a genuine interest in those around you and to find common ground.
How do you build team camaraderie?