The Tech Seminar and The Happy Tech Hour

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

During my career I have been lucky enough as to meet and work with a lot of qualified software engineers, but their teams were not always as successful as they could. It happens that in most of the cases there is more than just project management to make a team worth more than the sum of its parts.

Hide behind the monitor Hiding Behind The Monitor, from Camera Moves, Christopher Kenworthy's Blog. Sometimes we developers tend to be more challenged by coding than by selling concepts or ideas to our colleagues. It's easy to hide behind the monitor and stay silent for hours, mostly when users don't fly around. And at some point that's right. Programming consist of producing code, and doubts are usually cleared up by proving that our code is shorter, faster, more secure and more efficient. Up to that point profilers talk more than us.

However the feeling is that we can achieve more as a team. We see we could use this or that tool, have a new team policy, and maybe take more risks, because there's fun to it. For all that we need more talking, good mood, empathy and active participation.

The question is, does the team have the right atmosphere? Is it possible to improve team's performance and its quality of life? How could the team be more than the sum of its parts?

Well, there is no magic answer for such questions. Not in my spellbook. Teams grow, some people leave, others stay, different degrees of expertise and seniority get mixed up... Each case require a different approach and strategy. But in my opinion there are a couple of social events you can try. I have had good results after introducing them: The Tech Seminar and The Happy Hour.

1. The Tech Seminar

The Tech Seminar is an hour long event that takes place once a week. Every seminar is arrange by a different developer. The event consist of a roughly 30 minutes talk followed by a Q&A session. The developer chooses the topic, that either can fall into her subject of work or can be a topic of actuality whose knowledge might be of the teams interest.

The developer prepares the talk as best as she can knowing that by one side she can get thoughtful feedback from her colleagues, and that by other side she makes them up to date on the matter she has been working on.

The effort on preparing the talk helps both, the developer to get an overall look of the subject, and her colleagues to get a good understanding of what she's been doing and how it fits in the team goals. During the talk her colleages take notes and come up with feedback and suggestions. In the long term, when the team has already run a second or third round of seminars, everybody tend to be supportive and participative, helping positively in other people's matters.

When the talk is about a topic of actuality (perhaps a new tool, a new technic, library or API), the team will gain knowledge and establish connections in between the subject and the scope of activities they are taking on.

In the middle of the knowledge flow going on during technical seminars there is also socialization. Under normal circumstances teammates will start to trust each other's judgement. What it will help to keep everybody in the same page, so that team goals will be understood, and in the future will have realistic time frames. Additionally you can expect fluent collaboration and support among everybody.

2. The Happy Tech Hour

Tech Seminars are great but not enough. The kind of socialization that takes place during seminars are quite professional and focused on the topic of the seminar. There's little chance for easy talks and those are required too. To have a well connected team we have to care about the human side of relationships. Believe it, you nerd!

Developers tend to be introverted. But the truth is that behind that attitude may exist an excellent professional with capacity to support and provide solutions to other teammates and even with strength to lead a workgroup to new projects. The Happy Tech Hour is the social event that will help to get that out. It helps people connect with each other and produces team empathy.

The Happy Tech Hour is yet an hour long event, takes place once a week and is sponsored by the company. It's organize by software engineers but people from other departments may join too. It's a standing event, kind of a cocktail, with drinks and snacks.

It has to be organize in one of the company's rooms and during working hours (like every Friday afternoon) to favor a professional atmosphere. Happy hours taking place in a pub after working hours have the opposite effect. Often produce destructive criticism that may alleviate personal mood but destroys team's one. When the company happens to be the main promoter people naturally feel positive and participative.

The Happy Tech Hour is the best opportunity to meet new team members, to share previous experiences, talk about worries, curiosities and the technical actuality, celebrate team results, introduce news, smooth things over, etc.

Summary

Both, The Technical Seminal and The Happy Tech Hour, help to increase trust among the team. With time and careful observation the level of commitment can grow, along with team's performance and stability. These events may not resolve all the problems but definitely are a great contribution to company's health.

Give them a try, follow the format that better suits your team, and let me know how's the experience.


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