A blog that needs work

Right Person, Wrong Team

It's not surprising that I've been talking about how we lost a team member lately. Firing people just sucks, for everyone involved. It sucks, and as much as I had said that I'm over it (which I am), there's one little lesson that I've been leaving off until now.

I think it's important that I preface this 'advice', as I should preface all 'advice':

  • n = 1: This is merely my experience; I can't claim that it applies in the general case
  • It came from me: who doesn't like a little self-deprecating humour, eh?

Hiring is tough; there's no shortage of articles on the topic. The prevailing advice is hire smart people and get out of their way. It's all about the team.

Of course. It's so obvious! Just build a team of amazing people.

Nope, that's not it. Not quite. Let me explain by way of poor analogy:

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow." -- Agent K, Men In Black

I knew how to build the perfect team. I'd read all the articles: Find people who are smart and get things done; find the people who aren't on the market; hire the top 1% (not just the 1% who apply). I'd read it all (well, not quite; I've yet to embark on reading Topgrading).

But these articles, as famous and valuable as they are, are taken from a very particular perspective. Usually, they're from the perspective that you have a team and you're adding on to it. Or worse, they're talking in generalities (which I am certainly not guilty of) about hiring technical talent. And, while that's helpful, it just doesn't quite apply to my circumstances.

And that is because the team is what matters, at first, at least.

In this case, we hired a smart person; I have no regrets about that. Unfortunately though, that person just wasn't as dumb, panicky, and as dangerous as the rest of the team, to stretch a metaphor too far (which, to be honest, works in this case; it makes our team sound really badass).

When you have a small team like ours, more than anything, the team has to get along and work together. There can't be a lot of internal conflict: conflict kills companies in the same way that a lack of funding (usually) does. It really helps if the team works in similar ways, communicates (even to the point of overcommunication), and has a similar culture. It doesn't matter if your team is a bunch of superstar A-players if it doesn't function.

In our case, we needed a high-functioning, agile team instead of a bunch of rockstars. That meant that we had to take a look at our team, and how we worked, and evaluate if that team would succeed. We determined it would not, based on past experiences, and acted accordingly. And so, we had to let that smart person go.

To put it more directly: Right Person, Wrong Team.

And really, it's not mindblowing that sometimes, there is a person on the team who is not a good fit, but when you're in the trenches, its hard to see the forest from the trees (apparently, I've never met a metaphor that I didn't like).

Sometimes, it doesn't matter how smart you are if you can't work with those other dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.

Nicholas Terwoord

A self-titled software developer, "code archaeologist" (whatever that means), and professional geek. Spends too much of his time coming up with new projects, and not enough time working on them. Likes video games, board games, anime, manga, and Pathfinder / Dungeons and Dragons (GOTO: Line #1 - Geek).