Working as a software engineer in today’s world often requires working with others. The top tech companies, fintechs, and even up-and-coming disruptors organize their engineers into teams with specific missions, goals, and ownership. It might be the fabled two-pizza team, or it might be a team of ten or more.
Learning to work well within a team is critical to your success as an engineer. The notion of the hero programmer or the lone ranger won’t get you far. The top engineers are ones that accomplish through others by mentoring, teaching, and shaping the organizational culture. And it’s hard to do any of those things if no one wants to work with you.
But the thing about teams is that they change. New members join, old members leave, reorgs create brand-new ones, etc. And when this happens, it can be hard to understand what to do next.
But it’s paramount that when these changes happen that you do adapt. Otherwise, you will get stuck in the past.
This begs the question: how do you adapt? How do teams change?
Much research has gone into how teams form, perform, and find their roles on their team (which we’ll get into it soon). But before we get there, whenever I think about adapting, I think about Bruce Lee.
Be Like Water
I’m not a big kung-fu movie buff. But I’ve still heard of Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee was one of the world’s best martial arts movie stars. Not only did he master the craft of martial arts, but he was a master filmmaker and even a bit of a philosopher.
And there is one quote of his that exemplifies how to adapt on a team.
Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it.
What does this mean in the context of navigating team changes?
It means to be flexible. Don’t try to push your agenda over others or force your will on the team. Instead, find the paths or the directions of the team you can follow to create momentum for your team and its goals.
An example of this from my experience on a team change was around alerting. When I joined a new team several years ago, they…