Several months ago it became apparent that I needed to change my employment model. I was done at a previous gig, and was looking at possibly freelancing again, or maybe getting a “real job.” I really only had one requirement.
I wanted to be part of a team of knowledgeable people.
When I freelanced I was pretty much on my own. I remember many a time slumped in my chair, not knowing what to do next. When I had “real jobs” I was usually either alone or far more experienced than the people that worked with me.
The team I picked to join was X-Team (or did you already know that?), and it’s fantastic, but this post isn’t about X-Team. It’s about all great teams. And here’s why.
When working alone, and really stuck, I would occasionally ask friends for help. It usually involved an hour or two, and I always felt bad about asking. When you’re in a team, working toward a common goal, the knowledge pool grows dramatically. Combine that with unified critical thinking skills and the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
“Sure, you could do it that way, but you shouldn’t.” Oh how many times I wished I’d heard that in my career! Wisdom extends knowledge and uses it properly as a tool. You may know lots, but a team can show you how better to use that knowledge.
I don’t mean just technical, but social and emotional as well. In a good team you can say things like “Hey, this project is killing me, can you help?” and people say “Hey, yes! Let’s figure that out and get it behind us”.
Making the most of a team
Being employed by a company and being placed into a team doesn’t mean you’ll magically reap the benefits. Here are some tips on making it awesome.
This holds whether you’re asking for help or giving it. It can be very humbling to admit you don’t know something that it seems everyone else does. The fastest way to get to know that thing is to admit you don’t and learn it. Sometimes someone will sit with you and explain everything. Sometimes they’ll say “Go read this blog post”. Unless you humble yourself and admit it though, you’ll get little benefit from the team
It’s also important to be humble when giving help. There was a time when you were clueless as well. When someone on your team comes to you asking for help, it’s to your advantage to help them, to have them know that stuff. The more your team knows, the more powerful it is. But people don’t ask help of jerks.
The other day I wrote some code and a team mate said “Hey, I wrote something to do that already, why didn’t you use it?” Because I didn’t ask if it had already been done. What I did wasn’t bad, and I even got a bit of a compliment on the implementation, but it didn’t need to be done at all. If I had asked, the project would be that much further along.
Something I love about X-Team is the culture of appreciation. We’ve deliberately created a culture where high fives are given for success. When it’s built into your culture, it becomes much easier to make happen, and the community as a whole benefits.
As humans we need appreciation. It’s energy. If you’re an introvert it can be hard, but try. Tell someone “good job”, “thanks”, “I appreciate your help”, “you are the smartest most awesome person I know”, “you’re very clever, it may seem like you’ll never make it, but I can see you will, keep trying”.
DO IT. It’s important.
Finding a Team
I was blessed to find a great team, but what if you’re not in one? There are lots of reasons. Maybe you’re a solo freelancer. Maybe you work in a small shop and you’re It. You can still find or build a team.
Join a WordPress meetup. If there isn’t one near you, find one with an active email or chat community. Get to know people. Teach. Learn.
Mentor someone. Then someone else. I’ve been building the web for a long time, and I don’t think I could count the number of people I look up to and respect that actually started under my mentorship.
Find a mentor. Someone willing to be your sounding board. You might be lucky enough to find someone willing to just give of themselves, but you might need to bribe them with chocolate or beer or access to Grandpa’s cabin or something.
Join the greater WordPress community. Take part in public forums. Go to WordCamp and shake the hand of everyone you meet. You WILL make friends, and you WILL end up with a team, I promise. Unless you’re a jerk. Then you probably won’t. But you might.
In summary, a good team can make you a better coder, communicator, and all around better person if you let it.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” — Proverbs 27:17