I’ve worked with a lot of teams.  Teams made up of individuals, obviously.  I’ve worked with people I respect & those I didn’t, and with both respectful & disrespectful people.  I have been both too – we all have at some point in our lives.  Its still at the start of a new year, so lets all resolve to be a little bit better this year than we were last year with this.

Working in software development for….lets just say quite a few years… has meant I have worked with a huge range of different personalities.  Now, I know every single one of us is a special little snowflake, so of course everyone I worked with was different.  And IT has certainly got the reputation for having the most special snowflakes of all….

That’s a good thing I think.  Software Engineers (and I’m including testers as well as developers here) are creatives after all.  It’s that quirkiness that is almost a cliche in a creative.  This is what attracted me to work in tech in the first place.

I love quirky.

And it’s not only that quirkiness makes things interesting either.  In fact, the more diverse the team(s) the richer the experience for everybody in my experience.  I know, because I have seen it.

Yet…in all that rich soup of differences there is a single thing required of everyone.  With out it, a team can’t be successful – or at least, not in a sustainable way.

That one thing, is respect.

It’s quite a short word for such a monumental thing.

Respect underpins everything in a successful team.

Contrary to popular opinion, team members do not have to like each other to work well together.  Sometimes people work less well with their friends than they would otherwise.  You can dislike someone and still work effectively with them, and in a sustainable, long-term way.

Lots of people have disagreed with me on this point, so feel free to join them (but I know I am right 😉 ).

For a successful & effective team dynamic you MUST have mutual respect among the team members.  Each person needs to respect the work done by their colleagues. They need to see it as a valuable contribution to the goal.

Respect is a ‘keystone’ habit.

Respect is core to many of the types of behaviour we enjoy when we work or socialise with other people.

You can’t be respectful of another person AND be rude to them. You can’t be respectful AND insulting, or dismissive of their work, their appearance, or their life choices. Try it – but your brain might explode!

Being respectful doesn’t mean you have to like someone though.  You can truly dis-like someone and still be respectful.  (Does this feel to you like you aren’t being ‘honest’ or ‘real’ with them?  I’d suggest that instead it implies you are using lazy thinking. Just as you don’t have to show up to every argument to which you are invited, equally you don’t have to express every emotion you feel outwardly.  This isn’t being fake, it’s demonstrating self-control.

One possible pathway to more respectful interactions

It is easier to be disrespectful of someone for things you don’t like about them, than to look past that and find things you do like or admire.

You might not get along with their personality, but can you see how great they are at certain aspects of their job?

Perhaps they are pretty lousy at their job, but rather than focus on that, look for things you can admire about them.  Maybe they are exceptionally kind to their staff.  Do they do a full day’s work before going home to spend many more hours caring for ageing relatives?  Would you even know?  Have you even tried to find out anything about them?

Remember that, at work, we only see a few facets of another persons life. Where no single one of us is perfect, many are awe-inspiring in some less visible aspects of their life.  It is respectful to try and find that out – especially if you don’t like them very much.

Well that sounds like hard work!

Finding something great to respect about every person you meet is time consuming.  Doing this with people you don’t instantly like can be a real chore…at first.  But once you develop it into a habit (something you do all the time, for everyone) you see it is more as a blessing.

This is because negative emotions are far more taxing on your own wellbeing than positive ones.  If you let bad feelings about other people intrude on your day you hand the keys to your mood over to another person – and one that you don’t like!  Why would you do that?

Respect amongst your team

Respectful team members will build relationships with each other.  In finding things in common with each other they find ways of working better together & deliver meaningful and valuable work as a team

Teams that have respectful interactions do not talk over each other, or shout each other down in planning sessions or 3 amigos.

More vocal team members tend to make space, and actively seek out input from a more introvert or softly-spoken team member.

Communication doesn’t happen by directive. Instead it is because each team member recognises their colleagues add value to the conversation.  Everyone’s opinions are sought more often because of this.

Quick look at how respect can help in an agile team

Retrospectives with respectful team members allow for clear feedback. This can be given and received without offence or blame.  This means a healthy atmosphere for improvements and experiments, where criticism is constructive.

Planning with respectful team members means every one feels safe to speak up if they see a potential problem with the work planned.  It is easy to see how someone who doesn’t feel respected might choose to keep quiet. After all, speaking up would risks potential conflict among disrespectful colleagues.

 Standups with respectful team members means people listen to each other. By listening they will become aware when a team member needs help that they could offer. Listening is the first step to more respectful interactions.

Respectful interactions are part of the culture of the team – or they should be.  How does your team(s) look right now?

So, I am taking a more contemplative approach to your New Year Resolutions (occasionally known on this blog as ‘procrastinating’ :D). If you are doing the same, maybe give this one some thought. 
If you adopt more respectful working habits you will feel better about yourself, and others around you will find you less abrasive too.  (Yes.  Some other people out there don’t like you either!  Or me for that matter.  I promise you, that’s ok.  It is not ok for one person to be disrespectful to another because of it though.)

As I said at the start of this article: I’ve worked with respectful people and disrespectful people & I have been both too, as we all have.

We’re still at the start of a new year, so lets resolve to be a little bit better this year than we were last year.