Blueprint for building successful development teams

A few years ago, I found myself drawn to this blog post by Kieran Revell.  This article really caught my eye.  I have spent my entire career believing in a lot of what is written in this article.  I felt compelled to add a few of my own thoughts on how to do things particularly from my role as CTO running a cross functional software development team.  I tell every employee I have ever interviewed a few things during the interview process.  I try to live by these philosophies in my every day work life as I work with and build my teams on a day to day basis.

 
Hire the person, not the paper
For me, the resume is typically just a piece of paper.  I rarely look at them.  I might look at the college you attended, but only to make fun of you for not attending the greatest University in the Country, Kansas State University.  No really, it’s pretty awesome.  When I do an interview I’m more interested in the person you are.  I want to know about what makes you tick, what gets you out of bed every day, what do you value most.  Do you have a personality and things that you get excited about?  I feel that it is more important to hire people with a strong moral compass, a good sense of humor and a person that is going to fit into the team culture than it is to hire the most technical person on the planet.  I have seen it time and time again where a group will hire the smartest person they have ever met only to have that person be so disruptive to the team that the team actually becomes less effective.  Having a team member that everyone is scared to talk to and everyone thinks is a total jerk usually ends up in a disaster.  Don’t get me wrong, I have hired some folks from time to time that needed the mentoring and the coaching of how to not be a lone wolf.  But, at the end of the interview, I am confident in my gut that I can coach them up to fit into the team.  Some of the brightest minds I have worked with started off as ineffective team players.  They were used to and usually were always right.  But, if you truly focus on the person and who they are at their core you can almost always coach them into being effective team players.  This one trait is something I have prided myself on throughout my career.  I encourage all of you out there to quit reading the resume so much.  Use it as a pre-qualifier only.  Resume filtering is something your recruiter or sourcing agency can do.  Once you get face to face, throw the paper away and get to know the person.  Hire the good person   that is a good culture fit with lesser technical skills over the better technical fit but lesser culture fit every time.  You won’t regret it.

 
We spend too much time at work to be miserable
I use these exact words in every interview I do.  I tell every employee that I want them to come in with their eyes wide open.  Why pretend like the job / company is all sunshine and rainbows?  I have yet to meet a company that is perfect.  It’s just like life, nobody’s is perfect in every way.  The genesis of this comment is that I firmly believe in the idea that I spend enough time at work that I want it to feel like a family atmosphere just as much a work atmosphere.  This doesn’t mean I don’t expect people to put their time in.  We absolutely do.  But, treating people with mutual respect and a sense of family values often creates a whole new level of loyalty and team comradery.  What does treating people with a sense of family values really mean?  I can probably summarize that in one of our core values @RingmasterTechnologies.  We work to live we don’t live to work.  To me this means if you have a sick kid, work from home if you have a doctor appointment go to it if you want to go to lunch with your kid at school on Wednesday this week…. do it!  Life happens, work doesn’t have to get in the way.  If you hire the right people, they will always pay you back usually more than pay you back.

 

It’s more than just having a flexible work schedule, though.  You have to help your employees figure out the best way to navigate their career and be happy.  This might even involve helping them get a job outside of your company.  More than once in my career, I have had to talk to an employee and tell them that life’s too short to be unhappy.  I don’t really have a place for you right now to improve what it is you are struggling with.  However, I’m happy to talk to you about what you are looking for in your career and help you find another job outside of our company.  I typically get a bit of a shocked reaction from them during this conversation.  I tell them I am not firing them, I’m just looking to help them grow in their career and manage a smooth transition off of the team.  This open conversation has allowed me to get in front of employees before they just abruptly quit due to being unhappy.  This has proven to work for me time and time again.  I have even re-hired some of these people years later when they have grown in their career or have realized the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

 
I’m an open book and I want you to be too
I tell all of my employees that I try to be an open book.  I am not trying to hide anything or sit in an ivory tower making mysterious decisions.  There are obviously some things that I have to keep confidential (payroll, acquisition targets etc), but for day to day topics I am happy to discuss any decisions I am making.  This type of open door attitude is important for keeping the communication flowing.  It’s often through these discussions where I begin to recognize that an employee is unhappy or miserable.  There may be many reasons they are not happy.  Allowing them to communicate that to you across reporting boundaries is imperative to a healthy team.  I try to treat everyone with honesty and I often tell people that someday I may be on your side of the desk and you may be on my side of the desk.  This heart on my sleeve type attitude is usually well received and is always sincere.  At the end of the day, we are all trying to get ahead and provide for our family. Keeping things in perspective can often alleviate the most complicated of problems.

 

Imagine how much better of a place the world could be if everyone was happy at work and felt like it was just an extension of their family?  After all, you never know when you might be sitting on the other side of the desk.  It’s funny how bridges go both ways.