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On Teams: Leadership and Group Organization Matters

October 14th, 2008

This experiment draws some strong parallels to the software realm.

the experiments … organized some public school, middle-class eleven year olds into [clubs] with five boys in each and a carefully trained college student leader. 

Some of these collegiate club leaders were told to become autocratic. They gave detailed directions to the boys, telling them exactly how to paint their clubhouse signs or build model airplanes. Other, the laissez-faire leaders, stayed out of the way, and in the third group, “democratic” leaders helped the boys execute their own ideas, with as much non coercive guidance as possible.

Laissez-faire leadership, letting the boys do whatever they wanted, bred frustrated cynicism. Under authoritarianism, some boys became extremely obedient … while others fought, bullied each other, and destroyed their own toys. In the democratic groups, boys became more conscientious, more tolerant of each other, less selfish, and more adult.The Age of Heretics, Art Kliener

The reactions these groups exhibited, is similar to what I’ve experienced while working in software teams. The best experiences I’ve had have consistently been in democratically structured teams – with a very fine balance of aristocracy from a team lead or architect. it also follows that the most challenging teams have been rigidly autocratic or Laissez-faire (hands off, with no guidance).

If a system is to have conceptual integrity, someone must control the concepts. That is an aristocracy that needs no apology. … In an unconstrained implementation group, most thought and debate goes into architectural decisions, and implementation proper gets short shrift. – The Mythical Man-Month, Fred Brooks 

The balance between democracy and aristocracy is delicate. A team leaning too much on aristocracy runs the risk of undermining the team, while a overly democratic team can fall into paralysis which places the project’s completion in jeopardy.

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Personal, Team Work Tags:
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