R-E-S-P-E-C-T

All I’m askin’ (Ooh) Is for a little respect – Aretha Franklin

After taking a break for the holidays, I’m back. This week, I’m going to talk about respect. Aretha knows what it is. Do you? And more importantly, what does it mean for a team?

What do I mean by respect? Webster’s defines it as a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way. That sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? Seems like it’s something that we’d all like. But if we want it, then we better start by creating an environment that supports and protects it. In my experience, a respectful environment is a fragile thing. A few bad incidents can completely destroy the culture of respect.

Returning to the definition of respect, that last bit deserves extra attention: “someone … should be treated in an appropriate way.” But what is appropriate? I think appropriate treatment consists of 2 things:

  1. Everyone deserves to be heard and to have their opinions considered
  2. Everyone deserves to find their own solutions for the tasks that have been delegated to them

I’ve talked about the second one before at length. So I want to elaborate on the first one, because defining and maintaining a culture of strong ownership can be somewhat tricky. For example, it is easy to fall into the trap where people own solutions in spades but you’re not honoring or protecting the first aspect of a respectful environment, without which true ownership is limited. That’s not a great place to put people.

Everyone on the team needs to be able to say what they think. Even if they’re wrong, they still always deserve to have their opinions heard and considered, and to retain the respect of their team members. Now that last item is a really important bit. In my experience in the games industry, and in tech in general, there’s this pervasive attitude that respect must earned and that it’s easily lost. In my opinion, you should always start with respect and it should be very hard to lose it. The reason for this is pretty simple. Without respect, you frequently end up with a very toxic environment. Why is it toxic? Because your culture will quickly devolve into an antagonistic one. Rather than having respectful discourse when there are disagreements, people end up in shouting matches where it’s no longer about what’s best for the product or the company but who has the biggest ego and can shout the loudest. Not very professional, and definitely not a great work environment. With rare exception, most people do not enjoy being yelled at, certainly not in a professional environment. So you’re back to people checking out and not voicing their opinions and the company suffering for it.

When people don’t feel heard, or worse, when their ideas are dismissed out of hand, they’ll become disenfranchised and start to focus solely on just their portion of the project rather than contributing to the whole. And that’s the best case. Worst case, they’ll completely check out and start phoning it in. They don’t worry about anything beyond checking whatever boxes are required for their small corner. Who cares if the whole project is a mess? All that matters is that my stuff is working, right? Wrong! If everyone on the team doesn’t care about anything beyond their portion of the project, it is likely that the whole thing is going to eventually come crashing down because all of the working parts don’t actually work together. Been there, done that. I don’t recommend it. You need and want the whole team to be pulling in the same direction. No one is able to track and know every little thing about a project, so you want the team to be helping and covering all of the gaps. If there’s some feature or bug that’s not getting addressed, you want team members to step up on their own and take that on, even if it isn’t necessarily their immediate responsibility. If you don’t have that, your product isn’t going to be anywhere near as good as it could have been. Disengaged team members aren’t going to give that to you; connected ones who feel like their insights and opinions matter will.

Hopefully this post helps elaborate on some of the nuances of a strong ownership culture, and makes you think about your own culture and whether people are being respectful of each other. Until next time. Agree or disagree with anything I’ve said? Questions? Let me know in the comments below or via TwitterFacebook or email contact at captainbyrank dot com.

Respectfully yours,
Shaun

2 thoughts on “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  1. Very Interesting but I would like add an insight that helps me to keep the team stronger and work closer together. Every time we are having a discussion about a technical problem that a member of the team has, we always try to have someone else to play the “devils advocate” and make opposing points to the presented solution so all the angles to the problem are covered up, and in the end of the conversation to keep the respect and coordination between the team I always ask 2 crucial questions to the team member having the technical problem – “Do you agree? What do you think about the direction of the game with this solution?”
    Although I still lack of experience since I only have 5 years of gamming career, with only 2 of leading a team of engineers, I strongly believe that this 2 crucial questions always makes everyone feel part of a whole and think about the impact we have (as programmers) on the players that play our game and also on another team members (programmers and non-programmers) on their daily job.
    Do you agree with my statement? 😉

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s