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Why Developers Hate Team Building

Software developers groan at touchy-feely team building exercises. Yet they’re missing out on valuable experiences.
Posted November 12, 2012
By

Eric Spiegel


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“You can’t make me go.”

Our software development team was sitting around the large conference room table for our weekly team meeting. Jared just matter-of-factly made the above statement when our manager announced an off-site team building activity.

Tim, our boss, was a bit of a hot head. So we all held our breath as he and Jared exchanged unblinking stares.

Tim asked, “Why wouldn’t you want to go Jared?”

“Because it is a waste of time.”

I gave Jared a light kick under the table and he turned and gave me a “what?” look. He could be a bit thick, so I was sure he didn’t realize how deep a grave he was digging himself.

Tim responded, “Jared, this is mandatory. Everyone must participate, end of story.” Tim quickly declared the meeting over and exited.

Everyone now exhaled, but I knew this wasn’t the end of it. Jared was set in his ways and as stubborn as a mule. He was also the smartest person on the team, and that included Tim – who most of the team thought was at the other end of the intelligence spectrum.

But Tim was the boss and Jared had irked him, yet again.

As everyone else was shaking their heads walking out of the conference room, Jared and I lagged behind.

“What were you thinking, Jared?” I asked.

“I was thinking that moron wasn’t going to make me play silly games. And he can’t make me do anything after work.”

Jared was never much for the touchy-feely stuff. Team building certainly seemed to fit into that category.

The thing was, I actually liked team building activities. I enjoyed getting to know my coworkers better and always was interested in finding ways to improve at work.

“Is it really worth fighting him over this?” I asked. “We all work late to make our deadlines and I have never heard you complain about writing code late at night.”

“That’s because writing code is my job. Making nice with my coworkers is just stupid.”

Jared continued with a taint of frustration in his voice. “If they don’t bother me, I won’t bother them. Just leave me alone to code.”

This felt wrong to me, although at the time, I wasn’t sure if he was completely off base. What did it matter if he produced great code on time, yet chose to work in a bubble?

Yet over the next week, I paid closer attention to Jared’s interactions with coworkers – or lack thereof.

Although Jared was a creative problem solver, he by no means was a great brainstormer. He had no clue how to effectively work with the team to devise a solution.

For example, he could easily figure out the most effective way to write an algorithm to fulfill his assigned requirements. But he was feckless when the team needed to design a solution that would not negatively impact a desired downstream result.

Instead, Jared would dig in his heels and state it wasn’t his problem if his code worked just fine, regardless of the impact on other modules that had to leverage his output.

He was not capable of talking through alternatives with the group, partly because he didn’t respect the other’s intellect. This was especially if he had personality conflicts with them – and there was more than one case of this.

Team building could have helped Jared understand how to leverage the strength of others and also, perhaps more important, helped the other team members understand how to better work with Jared. Most of the team simply tried to avoid him, which was a waste of potential intellectual synergies through mutual understanding and eventually cooperation.

I tried a different tact the day before the activity. “You realize the company is springing for food and drinks, right?”

Jared shrugged his shoulders. “I’d rather stick a needle in my eye.”


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