Open Source and Open Teams

February 1, 2011

Chapter 8 – Open Teams

Many open sources teams are accomplished at being open. They have to be. Many open source teams are made up of volunteers who don’t know each other. A lot of benefit to working on an open source project is getting to work in an open source team. Your code gets stronger, you make better projects, and you get a better working environment.

The Social Currency of Open Source

Brian Fitzpatrick:
“The best way to be influential is to be influenced.”

Every team of people runs on the exchange of social currency. Every team member wants to increase their social currency and become a more senior member of the team. If you ask someone for help and then use their help well, you will move up in the social structure.

Gaining respect by asking for help is the opposite of most corporate teams. Those teams often see needing help as a sign of weakness. You won’t find this process spelled out in a company handbook, but it is easy to test for. In your team, when you ask for help do you feel like the person you asked is doing you a favor? Are you reluctant to ask them because you are afraid of what other people will think? If you are, then the flow of social currency is clear: give someone help and you are rewarded, ask for help and you are penalized.

Open source teams don’t have a monopoly on positive culture and some corporate teams are run in an open way. Open source is a useful way to talk about these two styles of teams. Mark further reinforces the idea of open teams when he repeats something he tells every member of his team.

Mark Mitchell:
“There’s no shame in getting stuck, there’s no shame in not knowing, and there’s no prize for figuring out something that someone else has already figured out. The point is to work as a team and ask for help and collaborate with each other; to learn from each other and move the overall thing forward.”

There is nothing wrong with being rewarded for helping someone. But when you are penalized for asking for help, you have the beginnings of a territorial and competitive team. Being remote will increase this territoriality and it leaves you at a disadvantage. Being in the office gives you personal access to people. It is a lot easier to be pushy when you are in front of someone and very easy to be ignored when you are remote. The only way to win this game is to change the rules.

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