On the business value of cheer leading

I once worked in a shop that had stagnated so badly there were attitude problems to be found in every corner. Even the executives joked about the dangers of crossing between the IT department to “the coven in accounting.” The funny thing is that the building was full of good people. One talented woman comes to mind when I think of that place. She was open to learning new things but given the atmosphere she allowed her self esteem to degrade. In the end she was little more than the butt of her peers jokes… which just killed all her motivation. When I left, I took with me the lessons I learned in this dismal shop. These turned into my practices on how best to improve productivity which is the problem you solve in the process. And this always starts with the people you sit next to every day at work.

sadworker

Working as a web and business developer over the past 15 years has taught me the value of both having and being a peer cheerleader. I don’t mean someone who rips off catchy chants with pom poms scaring the daylights out of the person two cubicles down from you. No, this is the person who is invested in his/her fellow co workers on a personal level. A person who takes the time to be present, listen and offer metered advice. Following are some of the aspects that make up a good peer cheerleader that anyone can use to bolster the health and unity of his or her team.

One of the easiest things you can do is to set aside time to interact with your colleagues. Get to know the person. Use active listening to understand his or her goals, background, experiences and thoughts. Another is to share your own mistakes. These are learning opportunities for other people. Sharing these stories have business and personal value. This is one place where you have to reign in your ego and use your sense of humor.

We all know the programmer who takes half a day to name a variable. I’m grateful that people have such a high degree of dedication to the craft of coding. And while not all coders get hives when talking to junior developers, it should always be mindful. We have a couple responsibilities to our peers as senior developers; carefully meter out the advice and always do it in such a way that promotes the self confidence of our peers.

I saw a show at the Dallas Museum of Art the last month I lived in that great City titled “Give more than you take.” This was the first major survey of the artist Jim Hodges. I think of this idea a lot these days. We find ourselves working with various folks during the course of our careers. Yeah we meet our objectives well enough but it’s so much more rewarding when we go the extra mile for someone. They know you’ll be there to help and that supports the feelings of confidence in people and the department.

Over the course of this week I read something about emotional intelligence which, paraphrased, consists of; self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management. This reminds me of the director back in my old shop whom I asked how she dealt with bad decisions. She flatly stated she made none and indicated that this was not a topic for further discussion. An emotionally mature person knows that he makes poor choices at times and that it takes effort to manage our own feelings during those times. The days when we had a bad commute or missed a meeting due to something unforeseen and our mood is not so bright. Those are the times when we need to separate, and not act upon, those feelings. Remember to be a positive force in other people’s, and your own, day. True to form, the relationships we build with our peers cast a net that can help keep everyone on target. We make better choices, and products, together.

Another challenge is to resist the temptation of being the guy who brain-dumps everywhere. Throttle the feedback. Be precise about giving the right advice at the right time. This becomes easy when you are actually tuned into people around you. Again with the active listening there.

If you are more than a peer cheerleader, perhaps a tech lead, manager or director, remember to always listen to your people and react by providing positive opportunities for growth. Your people will talk about what they want to do. All you have to do is find opportunities to help these folks face the challenges they want to tackle.

All together this collection of practices make for a healthier department. Life’s parallels are funny. While I spoke of the other department which was full of angst and fear I have had the chance to work within one for the past year that embodies most if not all these practices. Even the guy who takes half a day to name a variable takes the time to listen to his peers before guiding. From personal experience, peer cheerleaders are an amazing asset.

So “OK <stomp stomp> LET’S GO!”

cheerleading

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