How You Can Help the Human Animals in Your Group Thrive | TechWell

How You Can Help the Human Animals in Your Group Thrive

Pack of lions

As testers or test managers, being effective mentors, coaches, and leaders is critical to our teams’ success. Quite often we also play important roles in driving change, influencing others, and helping individuals, teams, and the business move from where they are to a higher level of excellence.

We must interact with many people and work together in project teams made up of individuals with diverse perspectives. It is not easy to do that, and it usually does not come naturally. Yet we are animals, and many animals live and work—are only able to survive—in teams.

These can be flocks, shoals, swarms, or packs. They are connected together, to survive as predators or as prey. These groups—teams—in other animal species exhibit behavior that matches that of the human animal in groups. They have leaders, deputies, interpersonal relationships, fallings out, and making up.

I want to touch on another point that is particularly important when we look at adopting new processes, changing methodologies, or moving people from one team to another: the concept of territory. Animals require a territory within which they can freely range—not too large, not too small, interesting enough to be stimulating, and safe enough that the animal doesn’t feel endangered. If the territory is changed, the animal’s behavior changes. That change can be making the range smaller or larger, introducing a new animal, or taking an animal away. All of these actions can change an animal from healthily alert to panicky, hyper-aggressive, or pathological behavior.

For the human animal, these territory changes can be physical—extra people in an office, people removed from an office, or moving a team to a new office. For example, it could be the decision to move the testers to sit with the developers. Everyone is now closer together. It sounds like a good idea, but at first everyone will have to renegotiate their personal territory. It can be a painful experience, and it may not always be expressed aloud.

Territory changes in a software project can also be intellectual. Suppose Joe has always been the expert on the process for the software methodology used in that organization. Then someone decides to introduce a new way of working. Joe’s territory has been invaded. How will he respond? He may be panicky, or he may become aggressive. Even if he thinks the change is a good idea, his territory has been invaded.

And for the tester-developer relationship, when we report back on software, do we consider whose territory we are on at each moment, as well as how we negotiate moving through the intellectual and emotional terrain of our project? If we are not careful to build a clear, mutual understanding that development and testing is a shared and joint activity that benefits all, we may unwittingly start a territorial dispute.

The idea of territory is one aspect that influences our behavior as leaders and followers in teams. Understanding this concept and others that appeal to our animal instincts can help you foster your team’s ability to not only survive, but thrive.

Isabel Evans is presenting the keynote Leading, Following, or Managing? You Can Help Your Group Thrive at STARCANADA 2017, October 15–20 in Toronto, Ontario.

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