No Matter What They Tell You, It's a People Problem

Are you sure you’re not mixing up cause and effect? Perhaps people are happier when they know they are succeeding, rather then succeeding because they are happy together.

I’m not saying your idea is wrong. As an indicator, it may be pretty good, but I doubt that it’s as clean cut as that.

I totally agree on what you wrote in your article, Jeff. I work in a particularly large organization, leading us employees to collaborate in “client-provider mode” which is, from my point of view, not a healthy way to work. It is really hard to make people feel involved in such an organization, they do not believe in your product: project fails.

I agree with you on the team. I work in a happy, healthy, gelled, socially functional software development team, were yet to see if we fail or not, but we are having fun and learning through the process…

At the moment I’m having a problem (as is everyone) with one particular member of our team. This is in no way a software/technology team either, not that it matters.

There are two ideas at the moment. Firstly, get rid of them. They are a stone in the shoe, and every body will be better off with them gone. True.

Secondly, ‘there are idiots everywhere and learning to deal with the most difficult is a challenging and rewarding experience’.

I’m all for the easy solution - slice off the infected arm. But learning to over-come a situation could be beneficial for every body involved. May I mention the emphasis in that sentence is definately on the word ‘COULD’.

A great team doesn’t fall apart in the face of problems. They deal with it. A bad team will start bickering and moaning soon as things go wrong (if not before that).

What you’ve pointed your finger at is that what looks like a good team might not actually be one: the culture in a group is not necessarily reflected on the surface of it. Hence successful teams can be crappy, you just won’t know it till you start facing obstacles.

Or, in other words: happiness in a team is much more likely to be an indicator of the group-culture than of success. Or would you expect people that dislike eachother to suddenly be happy together, just because something worked?


This is a great subject. I really like what Matt Steve wrote.

The work environment is not about individuals. It is about organizations. Organizations (companies, departments, teams, and groups) are made up of individuals. Teams and groups are two different things. Groups are individuals that come together for some reason. Teams are individuals that learn to work together toward a common goal. Teams learn to work with the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, although some people thing they are.

If one person on a team is critical of the others on the team, it erodes the respect that the team has for that individual as well as the individuals that the one person criticizes. Effective teams learn to respond to coaching by a leader and then to coach each other. (Coaching is different than criticizing.) Teams succeed together and fail together. Any individual that is concerned with his or her team’s success would never do anything to erode the effectiveness of that team. Individuals who only care about themselves want their teams to fail so that they can try to distinguish themselves as the only shining star on the team by dimming the luster of their teammates and portraying themselves as perfect.

I think programmers, by our very nature are less people and team oriented. Programming is difficult enough without dealing with “that other guy”, office politics and super-sized egos.

For an indepth study of how stress in the workplace affects software development see:
It’s long, but also posits a number of countermeasures

I fully agree with you. As a consultant I work for many companies and you can tell the big differences between one an another. Sometimes just one guy has a tremendous effect in the bad atmosphere.


And the lesson is work on your own !


Hey Now Jeff,
I couldn’t agree w/ you more. Your co workers should feel like family.
Coding Horror Fan,

I’m still in University (first year!), and not taking Computer Science (as my Math marks sucked and I guess it’s a requirement you are a Mathematician…), but I do know that the first thing I do at a new job or when you’re working in a group with someone, such as in my programming class, you should try and get to know them if you don’t already. I tried working with someone I didn’t know in High School, and that worked out pretty horribly. I ended up re-writing the entire project 2 nights before it was due because the asshole felt like not learning how to code properly and was using parallel arrays, and it was a requirement we DON’T…

Take a co-worker out for a drink or something after work, get to know them, find something you both enjoy doing and schedule days to go have some fun with them. The better you are as friends the better you will get along, the better you will learn from each other, the better you will succeed.

This article goes along with the saying, “Be the dumbest person in the room.”

I’ve worked at two companies and at both I was the most experienced and knowledgeable one there. It was terrible. The internet was my only resource. I could never ask others questions (because they wouldn’t know). I could never depend on them to finish or do a good job.

In college I worked on an embedded system on a team of 4. 2 of the 4 people were lazy and incompetent. I was very green, but the leader was very smart and very dedicated. Our project wasn’t going anywhere. And then, summer came and the 2 other people dropped off the project. After that we got loads of stuff done and in the end we had a successfull project. Those 2 were really holding us back.

"[…] The secret to programming is not intelligence, though of course that helps. It is not hard work or experience, though they help, too. The secret to programming is having smart friends."
The Graphing Calculator Story (, Ron Avitzur

When you quote someone else, is it cool to insert links in the quote to your own writing? As far as I can tell, Eckel didn’t have that link in the original. I find this modification to be misleading – at least you should surround the replacement with “reference added -ed.” or something.

On occasion, I have seen a few ‘bad technology’ problems cause big losses. True, there was always at least one person stubbornly refusing to give up on the technology, but I often see them as a secondary problem.

Clearly, while our ‘processes’ are so venerable towards ‘people problems’ we are still in a very primitive stage. When we can build huge systems with hundreds of programmers and the above three questions no longer have an effect on the outcome then we will have arrived at a state where we can actually build things that lives up to the potential of the underlying hardware. Until then …


I don’t agree completely. The pendulum has now swung so far on the other side, that technical competence doesn’t matter any more. I’ve been a programmer for 20 years and when I go on an interview now, I’m not even asked one single technical question. The only thing people want to know now is if I would be a good drinking buddy.

Gettng along in the workplace is only one thing. A professional person will be able to get along with almost anyone - except the most idiotic jerk. Try not to hire those people. But to say that the utmost important thing is to build a team that would be great golfing or drinkign buddies has taking the hiring process to an unbelievable extreme.

We now have teams made up of communistic, good-ole-boy, fraternity, drinking clubs where happiness is the most important thing rather than building a great software system that does what it’s supposed to do on time and inside of budget.

If I become a manager again, personality will be ONE facet of the hiring process. But it’s not going to be the only one, or the most important one. I would expect my engineers to act professionally. Which means they might not have the absolute best buddy-buddy experiences of their life at work. But they need to do their best to get along and get the job done.

Individual success is also a part of job satisfaction. It’s as important as the commeraderie in a team. We’re also competing with each other as well as being a team. A good balance of that is what is needed. Not more gab-fests where we feel good at the end of the day if we talked (communicated) all day.

"And job satisfaction, based on my work experience to date, correlates perfectly with success"
Perhaps, but I don’t think that the reverse is true (lack of job satisfaction correlating with failure). Sadly.
I’ve been at companies with people that I’d have happily shot into the sun, but we’ve still got product out. The mere fact that I loathe my co-workers can force me to loose myself in the work.
A well-known example is EA, which is massively successful, but (at least, until recently), had appalling work practises, and was allegedly heavily populated with hateful idiots.

Wow. Nailed it. I mean huge hammer, like hitting a roofing nail with a sledge hammer hit it. One thing is tho, if you have the group I think it still comes down to people somewhere in the mix. Maybe not in the dev side, but people on the client or management side. Somewhere, somehow it will seem there is a cylinder not firing with the others. If dev is working good together, someone in management is the cog in the wheel. Sometimes its the client, its all a matter of human indecision coupled with personality conflicts. Now lets all get drunk and play ping pong!

I believe! I am so on your side with this. It isn’t just programming. To the couple of repeated comments about working alone, that just isn’t the way things are done anymore. I read that no matter what you are doing code wise if you are not in a team what you are doing is basically meaningless.

I code away at my VBA apps in total isolation, and would kill for a bit of interaction with another knowledgeable individual, and that would be so much easier if I liked them yes? Who do you want to live next door to, the guy that never talks to you, throws loud parties on the night your term paper is due, parks his monster truck in front of your mailbox, or the folks that you chat with, that invites you to his parties, you can help each other with chores/tasks and you feel comfortable with? We spend more time at work than we do at home, the same should apply. It is when we have to deal with sloth and envy or indifference that we end up at odds in our teams.