Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

Hi, Bob:
Your column about teamwork inspired me. This letter is about impedance matching, or maybe architecture....

Pat's Rule #1: Teams must "happen;" they can be guided but they cannot be forced to occur. Very nonlinear.

If we gather the right cohort, the result is almost magical. But the wrong cohort is just a "group;" a team that didn't "jell." It will generate tremendous internal strife and small results; entropy at its finest.

The business community's present approach to teamwork treats everyone like gas molecules: Put enough of them together and maybe "the magic" will happen. It's seeking critical mass but it's getting liquefied employees. And it doesn't know why.

Scientific method is supposed to begin with observation, then proceed to hypothesis and testing. Unfortunately, lots of folks skip the observation and proceed directly to the testing. They'd do well to fall back a bit....

Consider groups that occur in nature, like animal packs. Dogs and humans are much alike, so they are a good candidate. Every pack has a leader, an "alpha." No pack has two alpha members for very long; one will be driven away; the remaining members will be subservient. And they will form an effective internal "pecking order."

A pack with small internal strife is a very effective organism. In fact, it's so effective that we humans have laws to protect us from it. Unfortunately, we humans also fancy ourselves "superior" to other animals, so we form our packs arbitrarily, then wonder why they fail.

And we generate endless discussions about the "qualities of leadership" then jam the boss's kid into the alpha position even though he or she has a naturally subservient personality (relative to other members of the pack).

Pat's Rule #2: Employees are valuable because if you add one, or take one away, you change the entire nature of the pack. Major transfer function revision. Not necessarily bad, but way different!

I don't talk much about this stuff because the people around me generally don't like to picture themselves accordingly. But I do use it as a gauge, especially when I'm seeking an impedance match with a new customer (internal or external). I think of it as the "personality domain."

I look for the "alphas;" the movers and shakers in their organization. And I try to identify the "doers" as well. Each is useful; each is necessary; each can help my company thrive, even if they don't (or cannot) explicitly recognize their own roles.

This pastime also helps me identify (and avoid) organisms with severe internal strife; a strong impedance mismatch; a poor transfer function. They won't succeed until they change, but they could drag my company (my pack) down in the process.

And now the disclaimer: Pat's Rule #3: I'm only occasionally correct (but I survive). The operative posture is the "observation" mode; I try to stay there as much as possible. And I try to inhibit my ego. Your readers can respond to this letter at [email protected]
PAT BARRETT, PE
Barrett & Associates Engineering
Portland, Ore.

Your analogies seem realistic: People are (generally) all different, and they interact differently (unpredictably) when put in groups. When projects gets so complicated they can't be done by 1 or 2 people, the team problems sure do add a whole new complexity. And recognizing that you can survive despite being right only a fraction of the time-sounds like true enlightenment!! TNX!-RAP

All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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