Team Pride


Problems worthy
of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back.
— Piet Hein (1905-1996)

... you are about to embark on yet another challenging project. The work will be technically difficult, or maybe it's just that you have a very short schedule. But at least you have some idea of what you want to do — the beginning of UnityOfPurpose.

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People are most successful when they feel good about their project, and are confident. But there is a chicken and egg problem here: Confidence breeds success, but success creates confidence.

Pride perhaps goeth before a fall, but so doth apathy.

Most software projects — sometimes even the fun ones — demand a lot of work. And the ones that aren't fun don't have much of a chance of seeing a victorious finish unless something pulls its people together and draws them on towards completion. The hard work feels even harder because of short schedules. Such projects demand the best everyone can give, so motivation is often a key to success.

If people consider the work to be "just a job", the results will reflect it.

Teams tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies: everyone wants to work on a winning team, so teams can pick the best people. On the other hand, teams with low performance tend to be stuck with low morale. People don't join such teams willingly; they come in with a bad attitude.

So how do you bring such a team out of the doldrums? Even better, how do you give a team a winning attitude right from the start?


"We're the best." Instill a sense of elitism into the team. Teams that have a certain arrogance tend to work hard and accomplish what is put before them.

Really, one cannot open a team up and pour in a cup of team pride. Team pride must come from within. But there are many things you can do to help it come to pass:

  • Start with a worthwhile problem. Team members are more likely to feel elite if they have a challenging problem to tackle. It is especially good if the problem involves new technology; nothing excites a bunch of geeks more than working with the newest stuff.
  • Apply SelfSelectingTeam. If the team self-selects, they will go for the best people, in their opinion. So they will believe they are good.
  • Find some important strength of the team, and make that a rallying point: teach the team that they are good in a particular area. Be sure to find a real strength; people can easily see through a manufactured strength. The strength should be a technical strength; while a team might rally around "we party better than anyone else", it won't get the software written.
  • Provide some explicit separation from other projects. This can be physical location (put people together away from others), organizational, or information (share secrets with the group.) It can also be exemption from some of the rules that everyone else must follow. Just things to make it clear they are set apart from other groups.
  • CompensateSuccess.
  • The parent company must be doing well enough so that it isn't a concern. This author was once on a team that felt it was elite until the company started doing very poorly. The company woes diverted our attention and sapped our morale.
  • FireWalls. This generates an attitude of "Top teams shouldn't be bothered by bureaucratic crap."
  • As with UnityOfPurpose, it helps to unite against a common enemy.

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By itself, TeamPride does not guarantee the success of a project. But Boehm and others have pointed out that people are the key success element of any project, and TeamPride helps nurture and encourage them. It may even be able to overcome poor overall morale in the company.