July 21, 2006

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Teamwork & Groupthink

Team building. What fun!

I've recently been on a 3-day team building exercise with a client organisation. One of the exercises we were asked to do was very interesting indeed.

Maybe you'd like to try it for yourself:

It requires two people, a pen and some paper. Both of you take hold of the pen.

Now - without talking and with both of you keeping your hand on the pen - draw your dream house.

So far so good?

Okay. Now draw a tree in the garden of your dream house.

And then draw a dog playing in the garden of your dream house.

Give you picture a title.

Now give it a mark out of ten.

Remember. No talking. And no taking you hand off the pen. You most both have your hand on the pen at all times.

I did this exercise with a chap called Mark - the boss of the team - and, once we'd stopped giggling, we had a good stab at this picture.

What was interesting to me was how one of us would take the lead. Maybe start drawing a rectangle for the house. And then maybe start drawing a door in the centre of the rectangle. After a few seconds the other person would recognise the shape that was emerging and then we would both confidently complete it together - as if we were of one mind.

I'm sure our shared understanding of what a house looks like, what a door looks like, what a tree looks like and what a dog looks like played a very significant part in our ability to complete the picture.

But when we'd finished, we realised that it was neither my dream house nor Mark's dream house. It was just "a house", as defined in our collective subconscious. Innovation in this situation is tricky. What we ended up with was a generic house, with a generic tree and a generic dog in the garden. The title? "My House". We even gave it an average score.

I don't think it was the facilitator's intention - this being a "team-bulding" exercise and all - but it served as a nice little illustration of groupthink at work.

It certainly highlighted the need to strike an appropriate balance between getting the job done, and genuine creativity. Much of what we think of as effective teamwork might actually restrict our ability to come up with novel ideas and solutions.

How could this be incorporated - or balanced out - in disciplines like pair programming? Needs some thought...
Posted 8 hours, 42 minutes ago on July 21, 2006