Bringing different technology groups together can result in some interesting challenges. We often feel like we are doing group therapy for a very dysfunctional family, and many of the challenges encountered highlight the biases people often bring into the workplace. Leslie Sachs describes how to identify these behavioral issues and utilize positive psychology to help develop high-performance teams.
In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups, from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.
DevOps focuses on improving communication and collaboration between software developers and the operations professionals who help to maintain reliable and dependable systems. In our consulting practice, we often assess and evaluate existing practices and then make recommendations for improving the way IT teams function. Our focus is often on configuration, release management, and—these days especially—DevOps best practices. Bringing different technology groups together can result in some interesting challenges. We often feel like we are doing group therapy for a very dysfunctional family, and many of the challenges encountered highlight the biases people often bring into the workplace. This article will describe how to identify these behavioral issues and utilize positive psychology to help develop high-performance teams.
We all come to work with the sum of our own experiences and personalities, which, by definition, means we are predisposed to having specific viewpoints—and maybe even more than a few biases. Many professionals come into meetings with their own agendas based upon their prior experiences. When conducting an assessment, we are typically asking participants to explain what they believe works well in their organization and what can be improved. In practice, getting people comfortable results in better and more useful information. When we bring developers into a room to talk about their work experiences, we often get a very different view than when we speak with their counterparts in operations or other departments, including QA and testing. The stories we hear initially sometimes sound like a bad marriage that cannot be saved. Fortunately, our experience is that there is also a great deal of potential synergy in bringing different viewpoints together. The key is to get the issues on the table and facilitate effective and open communication.
Developers are often pressured to create new and exciting product features, using technology that itself is changing at a breathtaking rate. The QA and testing professionals are charged with ensuring that applications are defect-free and often have to work under considerable pressure, including ever-shrinking timelines. The operations group must ensure that systems are reliable and available on a consistent basis. Each of these stakeholders has a very different set of goals and objectives. Developers want to roll out changes constantly, delivering new and exciting features, while operations and QA may find themselves challenged to keep up with the demand for new releases. What we hear is the somewhat biased perception from each side of the table.
Developers are highly skilled and often much more technically knowledgeable than their counterparts in QA and operations. This makes for some challenging dynamics in terms of mutual respect and collaboration. The operations and QA professionals often feel that developers are the immature children who lack discipline and constantly try to bypass established IT controls. This clashing of views and values is often a source of conflict within the organization, with decisions being made based on positional power by senior executives who may not be completely aware of all of the details of each challenge. The fact is that this conflict can be very constructive and lead to high performance if managed effectively.
Psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have developed an approach known as positive psychology, which focuses on encouraging specific positive and effective behaviors that help to bring out the best in people, particularly in these challenging situations . By focusing on developing desirable behaviors, positive psychology moves from just identifying behavioral dysfunction to promoting effective and high-performance behaviors. The first area to focus on is honest and open communication. Seligman uses the term bravery to describe the ability to speak up or take the initiative, a key aspect of courage, which is often called for in the workplace. Integrity and honesty, along with perseverance and diligence, are also desirable traits that need to be modeled and encouraged in positive organizations. Successful organizations value and encourage these characteristics and their active expression. Positive organizations encourage their employees to take initiative and ensure that employees feel safe—even when reporting a potential problem or issue. Dysfunctional organizations punish the whistleblower, while effective organizations recognize the importance of being able to evaluate the risks or problems that have been brought to their attention and actively solicit such self-monitoring efforts.
We typically meet with each stakeholder separately and document their views, including frustrations and challenges. We then put together a report incorporating these observations that synthesizes all of our findings and suggests areas and methods for improvements. The truth is that dysfunctional and distracting behavior must first be identified and understood, but the next step is bringing all stakeholders to the table to look together for solutions and positive ideas for making improvements. Sometimes, this feels a little like horse trading. For example, one group may be convinced that only open source tools are appropriate for use, while another team may be very interested in the features and support that come from commercial products. We often facilitate the evaluation and selection of the right tools and processes with appropriate transparency, collaboration, and communication.
Positive psychology focuses on proactively promoting the types of behaviors research has identified as being closely correlated with achievement, productivity, and positive interpersonal skills, three qualities essential for individuals on a high-performance team. Obviously, any improvement effort should begin with understanding the existing views and experiences of those involved. But bringing the stakeholders to the table and getting their management to support, reward, and model collaborative behavior are key steps along the path that leads to high performance teams and a more successful organization.
 Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14