The Keys to a Successful Software Team: An Interview with Andy Kaufman


In this interview, Andy Kaufman, the founder of the Institute for Leadership Excellence & Development, explains why team chemistry is often an afterthought, how enthusiasm can often trump skill, and how to deal with conflict.

Josiah: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I'm joined by Andy Kaufman, the founder of the Institute for Leadership Excellence & Development, and a keynote speaker at Better Software East. Andy, thank you very much for joining us today.

Andy: Hey man, it's my pleasure. Thanks, Josiah.

Josiah: Absolutely. First, before we really dig into the meat of your keynote, could you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Andy: Yeah, yeah, sure. I started as a software developer, so even to this day, I'm a geek at heart, and was into stock and commodity trading. And my first week on the job, someone shoves a book of code in front of me, goes, "You're on call tonight," and I'm like, "What?" I learned pretty quickly that everything I learned in college about software was maybe a little bit different, but moved into doing software for doctors' offices, and eventually got into data warehousing and big data. My background is tech, and it's on the softer development side of it.

Josiah: A lot of your keynote is about team-building, about project success. If building a team that works together is so valuable to a project's success, why does it so often feel like chemistry is kind of an afterthought?

Andy: Yeah. Actually, that's a really good question, because I've seen examples where chemistry was an afterthought, and I saw an issue where—I've seen plenty of issues where chemistry was the primary thing that people interviewed on. They're interviewing on, "Yeah, I could see myself working with her, or him, or whatever." This is what I learned from a mentor, and I'll tell you, Josiah, this has served me very well. He said it this way: "There's character, there's competence, and there's chemistry." What I like about that is I tended to maybe be on the other end of your question, and that is, I would interview on chemistry of like, "Yeah, I think they could fit in really well here."

I've seen it where—I certainly have done it, but I've seen other people do this as well—that we interview on competence, like, "Oh man, the person's a stud. They are going to be great at this," but we forget about the other ones, and so the mentor that taught me this was, his point was, you have to interview character first. His point on that one, for example, listen during an interview, how do they talk about the people on their team at their last job? Do they tend to be somebody who points fingers and blames other people? Do they seem to be somebody that takes responsibility?

If they don't make it through that test, it doesn't matter the rest, but let's say they seem like a person of character based on how they talk there. Certainly, you have to look at competence for sure, but there's an element of which you can also train some of the competence. You know? Keep that in mind, but that chemistry part, don't lead with it, because like you said, you can't forget it, but it's part of that trifecta there between the three of them.

Josiah: Let's say if we're talking about basketball teams, let’s look at the Houston Rockets last year, where they have some of the best players, where they should be one of the best teams in the league, but the chemistry didn't work, the team didn't blend together. In sports, that's one way to look at it. But you've worked with many different types of teams throughout your career, so is there anything in particular about software teams that you've noticed to be different, that you've noticed maybe you have to organize them a different way?


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