[blog] Group working

Group working: even though they perform alone in the pool, the overall result is what matters. In a pretty well balanced team, like this, each swimmer can go for his best style. If the team was heavily unbalanced, at the limit, for instance, Adrian happens to be competititve only on butterfly – Phelps would have to give up his best stroke for the overall goal – since Phelps’ crawl would deliver at least enough contribution for a medal.

During my career I have had the opportunity to work with different people, from different cultures (5 cities, 3 countries) and I think I can talk about my very own impressions of what is a functional working group. Nothing I state here can be formally proved, and are only opinions.

I believe in a very clear concept when working in group: if you can provide what others need – do it, as soon as you can. I am not saying you need to sacrifice yourself, but the overall result is more important than your very own result, as in any system. Frustrated colleagues will, even if they try to avoid, create a frustrating environment, and that is language – not a mystical energy as one could suggest. The size of your RAM memory does not mean too much if the throughput is damaged at a certain frequency.

Human language is such a complex mechanism: a biopsychosocial product from the structure of your bones, passing through the consequences of the most joyful or painful events you went through and the positions you someway have occupied on the groups you once belonged or still belong to (family, school, sports, etc.). And of course, everyone has different bones and a life story, therefore, different ways to communicate. By communication, I mean transferring, receiving and processing information. This is even more clear when working with people from different cultures.

Back to the point about the virtuous circle, it is also a mechanism: being helpful makes who helps feel fine – mainly if recognized. Being helped makes people feel included, and not apart or ignored. An ideal system has fully functional decoupled components that communicate well. No noise, no jitters, no heavy dependence between them, but if one component malfunctions/fails, the overall system will eventually malfunctions/fails, otherwise it is not a system at all.

The tricky thing in all of this is the balance1. There will be times when a person will need to provide more than receive, and another times, this very same person will need to receive more than provide. This sending+receiving individual addend, should integrate in time to an ideal value, as a contribution to the ideal system value, i.e, a goal. It seems the value for the overall system is more meaningful and easier to assess than the value for each component, but the stability of the system depends on the harmony between the components. And there are deadlocks: helpless people cannot help. And the capacity of anyone to help is also limited. If someone is not receiving, it is very probable he will not be able to provide. What comes first? That is the tricky balance.

But, there are some behavioural points I believe can help to create a balance, so this value converges – (I am assuming here the components are compatible enough, that is, it is possible to build a functional system with them)

  • do not be too proud or too humble about your competences or achievements. «the brighter the flame the quicker it burns, but ashes do not make a fireplace.» (I think it is from a Metallica song)
  • understand that everyone has theirs own merits for being at the very same place you work too
  • protect your peers, take them off awkward situations if you can; at least avoid exposing them. more clearly: do not point fingers.
  • improve your coping mechanisms to deal with frustration
  • express frustration or satisfaction with serenity: do not overreact
  • listen up to whoever wants to talk to you: and make sure you got the message.
  • be straight: irony can be funny or even tempting sometimes, but ironic communication is failed by default – at the extreme it means the opposite of what it describes and nobody is obligated to understand what is not said (I myself was tempted to write some funny (at least to me) ironic stuff on these bulets. I did not, because I am trying to be as clear as possible, as this text must have a professional tone.)
  • when communicating by virtual chats it is even more important to be straight
  • understand others people genuine voice tone. some might always sound angry to you. some might always sound happy. but that is just one element of this complex thing called human language.
  • measure your words. they have an impact. there is not a universal standard to sound understandable. but there is a universal way to not sound disrespectful.
  • do not refrain from saying anything that you do think will contribute.
  • refrain from saying things that you know will not contribute
  • understand that there are no stupid questions. for real. it is language, again
  • do not be sorry for not knowing
  • do not be proud for knowing
  • keep learning the overall system. how it works, how it fails

1 There are different timings for each component, due to different processing times, in such a way if people could be completely modeled for different situations, we could foresee worst and best cases in this flow, so we would be like a real-time system. But we are not that predictable, although being predictable is an essential good social adaptive response.

Autor: Antonio Giacomelli de Oliveira

Engenheiro Eletrônico

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