Wearing the Cape

Or Team Death by Heroism

I remember the day that put on the hero’s cape and I killed our team.

A few years ago I would have felt really good about saving the deadline and exposing the deadweight we’d been carrying on the team.   I’d get a good performance review, a bonus, and some expectation that I’d be picked first on the corporate playground baseball team.  Everyone was oblivious that I just cost the company a lot of time and money.

So with all this goodness raining down on me like gumballs in an Adam Sander movie, how does wearing the cape cause team death?  Let us count the ways:

  1. I’m going to do my job badly.  A Hero only focuses on winning the day.  Like Batman saving the Gotham, we aren’t worried about the collateral damage.  We don’t care about the unfortunate drivers in the way of my super awesome armored tank-bike!  Can you afford to have documentation, cross-training and automated tests become collateral damage?
  2. My teammates are going to feel pretty crummy.  Who gets to be Aquaman on you team?   I’m telling them that they could not do their job so I’ve got to do my job AND their job.  There’s no way to sugar coat that ego buster and their not likely to offer much help after that.
  3. Decisions will be one-sided.  Without a team, the hero has no balancing ideas and will go racing off into obvious traps and dead-ends.  On my latest hero project, I worked all weekend and was told on Monday that there was a check-box on the operating system that would have done the same thing!  Doh.  Why didn’t my teammate give me a heads up on Friday?  Why should he bother – it was better cinema to watch me ricochet all over the project.
  4. Heroes require drama, so nothing will ever stabilize.  It’s silly to dash and keep saving the day if everything’s working pretty well.  Once I’ve put on the cape, I’m much more likely to invent crises to solve because most of the work that is needed to ship a product is pretty drama-free.  Some of the heros I’ve met just leap from job to job faster than a speeding bullet.

Looking for some kryptonite?  It’s not that hard to find:

  1. Stop rewarding heroics with praise, money, pizza, or beer.
  2. Make the hero take a long vacation, transfer them, or fire them.  Really, you can live without them.
  3. If you’ve got a hero, pair them with another person (they can respect) to minimize the damage.
  4. Have heros take on the grunt work instead of letting them cherry pick the best work.
  5. Stop the team.  If you believe team needs a hero then you need to reevaluate your deadlines, feature list, or external messaging.  Generally, an emergent hero is a symptom of a larger problem.

Wonder team powers, activate!

This entry was posted in Teams and tagged , , , by Rob H. Bookmark the permalink.

About Rob H

A Baltimore transplant to Austin, Rob thinks about ways of building scale infrastructure for the clouds using Agile processes. He sat on the OpenStack Foundation board for four years. He co-founded RackN enable software that creates hyperscale converged infrastructure.

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