Don’t just be work mates, be work MATES

The other day I was sat on the tram as usual deep in thought about what makes great Scrum teams.  I cast my mind back to previous places I have worked, where I work now and what I liked about various places and the people within them.  It may seem pretty obvious, but when I thought about it, it wasn’t actually the way places adopted Scrum like a boss, or how they smashed through the sprints with high quality software and excellent communication and collaboration.  Obviously I liked these things millions and it made me very proud of the teams, but what actually made certain places better than others was the friendships between myself and my colleagues.

One place I was at for a while had a different lunch venue for nearly every day of the week and it was the norm for most people to go to these places without fail.  I recall Mumtaz Monday, Orange Wednesday, Adelphi Friday…  Going out for drinks after work was also pretty frequent, and the great thing was that when this happened, it was always great fun. It wasn’t just about eating and drinking though, people did fitness stuff together, hill-walking, running or cycling for example (I used to join in the running at lunchtimes. Running with boys is hard. How came they can all run so damn fast?!).

Another place I was at went to the pub most Wednesdays and/or Fridays to what can only be described as the rankest food in the area in the scuzziest pub (it was called ‘The Dragon’, but was affectionately yet appropriately nicknamed ‘The Drag’), yet a good turnout of people still regularly went?  Sometimes if The Drag was out, they would also even drive in convoy across town to have lunch with their buddies in a different office twenty minutes away!

There are a more places like this that I can cast my mind back to; where the culture is sociable and inclusive; places from where I still keep in touch with my work mates.

But what about other places not like this?  What were they like and how did it impact the culture?  Well, I can think of one or two places where work mates were not ‘mates’.  Where people turn up for work and just tolerate each other and go home.  They don’t really want to be friends.  They just want to work and keep their own time their own.  Although I can get that, personally I think, well, it’s not cool. I didn’t like it. Places like this can be pretty lonely, actually. You can’t have much fun when people don’t want to be fun. You can’t make friends when people don’t want to be friends.

So why are some places better at being mates than others?  For me, I think it’s all about getting a good cultural fit at the recruitment phase.  There’s that argument of ‘we need a mix of personalities’, but I’m not so sure I buy that.  I think having extremes in groups makes it too diverse.  Having like-minded people who will get on is much more likely to be a sociable group that genuinely like each other, and in turn, a more successful Scrum team.

I’ve noticed that teams in a good cultured company hang out together.  They know each other’s hobbies.  They know where each other live and what their partner’s names are. They go for lunch together and for drinks after work and do fun stuff together.

I don’t think it’s hard to get teams to this place with a bit of encouragement from management.  If you notice your team aren’t hanging out much, facilitate something for them to do so!  Organise a lunch together, or some drinks after work.  Go paint-balling or something, anything fun!  The key is to do this regularly.  Don’t just organise something once and that’s it.  Organise 6 months’ worth of stuff.  If your fist attempt was a bit of a flop, try something else.  I usually find anything to do with alcohol tends to be successful. Organising socials will help people just get to know each other.  Its amazing what your colleagues get up to in their spare time and you had no idea.  Help people come out of their shells a bit and start being more up for hanging out.

In conclusion, don’t be just work mates, be work MATES.

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