July 3, 2019

Team Boundaries

By just listening to a person's choice of words we can identify what their perceived team boundaries are. Most often, they not what they should be!

Team Boundaries

I recently came across a talk in which the speaker was discussing team boundaries. They went on to say by just listening to people's word choice you can see where a person's perceived team boundary ends and where the next begins.

We vs They

As you have undoubtedly guessed the word choice that I was talking about above was we vs they. Whenever a person uses we you know they consider themselves part of that team. However, when they use they, they are drawing a sand in the line and saying that they are not associated with that other team.

We vs They shows you were perceived team boundaries start and end.

Now most people would consider the people that they work with every day as part of the team and hence would use the term we. In the software development world, this would include people such as developers, testers, designers, Scrum master & product owner etc. The interesting bit is the choice of words that people use for clients, other teams that you work or anyone else who is somewhat involved with the project. Most often, the word they are used in those scenarios.

At my previous consulting company, we had some developers and testers work together with a client to develop some software for them. Looking back at it we always used the term we for everyone from the consulting company and the term they for the client staff. For example, we would say that "They weren't ready with the requirements" or "They hadn't deployed the software to production yet". In actual fact, we were all on the same team and we should have used the term we!

No They, Only We

In the example above, everyone is working to a common goal, be it the consultant or the client. For all intents and purposes, they are a team, yet subconsciously we don't see it that way and we draw a line in the sand.

Many companies try to get people to work together. They send around motivational quotes, talk about it in meetings, but the only true way of getting that team mentality is to start using we instead of they. We should all hold each other accountable for using we instead of they. In the example above, it may sound strange to say that "We weren't ready with the requirements", even if you didn't have a direct hand in it, but you are all part of the team and the responsibility needs to be shared!

Until next time...keep learning!