Considering the huge amount of team-oriented management theory on the bookshelves, it is perhaps surprising that in this cognitively-oriented approach, what we do per team is… Nothing!

When each member of the team has good reason to be self-confident, there is no need for bombast competitions, and people do not engage in them (although discussions often become passionate). When each member of the team is able to think juxtapositionally, they are able to find the more general case which subsumes any special case understanding which each of them may have obtained. It is only when people are stuck in focussed attention and insecurity that each person feels the need to deny others’ observations in order to advocate their own. This phenomenon of convergence towards objective reality is exhilarating in it’s power, and justifies DeMarco and Lister’s statements in Peopleware that:

A gelled team is a group of people so strongly knit that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment.

Goal alignment in software engineering cannot be enforced by pretend threats or pretend fear of disembowlment. If it is, the goal that the team align to will be arbitrary, shallow and incomplete. It takes the multiple perspectives of the whole team to dig down to the general case, and find the goal that will fulfill the requirement.

Perhaps you find it hard to believe that juxtapositionally thinking people naturally form gelled teams. Consider the open source world. Many open source developers are drawn from the peculiar minority (which I will discuss below) who are better at maintaining juxtapositional thinking, and while they are working they do not suffer any of the stress raising factors that are often perceived as essential to commercial activities. They work without management, and consistently produce software of better quality (smaller, more efficient, more robust, more secure) than commercial offerings.

In light of all this, we can easily see why many kinds of “team building” and “motivational” activities are worse than useless. This is particularly true of exhortations to “do better” without making any positive suggestions as to how. These increase “pressure” - i.e. stress - and are therefore directly counterproductive.

Next: Why No-One’s Noticed This Before