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G(r)ood Testing Volume 7 – The Power of Not Knowing

  • 22/08/2014
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  • Posted by Derk-Jan de Grood

A colleague told me that he regularly asks his employees to share the three things are they struggling with the most. His experience: the problem of one colleague is often easy solved by another team member. Personal experience, different thinking patterns and different level of involvement makes that one team member often can ask the right questions or propose a out-of-box solution. A helping question or remark can lead to idea that solves the problem. But, helping each other starts with sharing our problems and uncertainties. Unfortunately this is not possible in every team or organization. A lot has been written about successful teams. You’ll probably know Meredith Belbin’s definition of team roles and Edward the Bono’s six hats. These models provide insight into the team composition. However, they do not say anything about the culture within organizations or teams. Unfortunately, since culture in large extent determines how team members fill their role.

The book “Getting naked” by Patrick Lenconi shows how his lead character gains effectiveness by being vulnerable. This fits nicely with a trend I see: we can be more ourselves during our office hours. It’s okay to have weak spots and it is okay if you do not have all answers. More and more we realize, that it is not about being perfect, it’s about performing as a team. And you do that by using each other’s strengths, utilize diversity and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Within Agile and SCRUM we often find ourselves in situations where the team is responsible. The hero is not the one who gives the impression to know everything, but the one who dares to stand up and openly admits that he does not know. He enables others to offer help.

During my studies I was once automating a research environment. In a meeting the teacher asked “You do refer to the red machine, don’t you?” My research partner and I doubted, but afraid to strike a goof nodded yes. One hour after the meeting the teacher stood in our office. He had walked over to the other side of the complex and had determined that the machine was if fact… blue. “If you do not know it, admit it.” He advised us stern.

If you do not know it, admit it

The one who dares to request for help contributes to the team’s success. Experience shows that a question of a team often triggers the others to think and potential problems can be discovered and resolved in an earlier stage. Sometimes problems might seem personal because only one person comes up with it. Many problems however, have their origin in the organization. They will then be put forward by one team member, but during discussion it becomes clear that others are also affected by the problem. So that makes it worth to solve them.

When I look at the problems I often encounter, these are often related to the organization. Tasks that you carry out independently and on your own are rarely blocked by large difficulties. You might to overcome some problems, puzzle about the best option. But usually you’ll come with a solution. The challenge is bigger if you have to motivate people in the organization to do something for you, if people need to change their behavior or method or if they need to be convinced. Many books have been written these topics. Useful as they may be, the best-fit solution, you will get by exchanging ideas with your team. Before you can do that, however you have to get the problems on the table. And that requires people to stand up and admit that they have a problem, or do not know how to approach it. Only than we can start resolving them. So next week I will go and make a round along my team member. Not to ask fort their problems, but to share the tasks that I am struggling with, – bearing in mind ‘ he who does good, is met well’.


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Derk-Jan de Grood

Derk-Jan de Grood works for Valori as senior test manager and Agile Transition Coach. His drive is to improve the visibility of testing in both agile and traditional organizations, by sharing his knowledge and experience by means of training, presentations, workshops and publications. He is a regular speaker at conferences like EuroSTAR, wrote several successful books on software testing and publishes articles for the major testing magazines. In 2014 he won the EuroSTAR Testing Excellence Award.

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