The Two-Tiered Team

August 30, 2011

Chapter 13 – Understanding and Resolving Problems

Having a two-tiered team was a problem the Subversion team had to solve early on. The core group had worked together in the past. They had a lot of history together and an established working relationship. They made all of the important decisions and had most of their discussions separate from the rest of the group. Left out members felt excluded from the team. It also meant that the team was missing out on valuable input.

The first step the Subversion team took to solve this problem was to understand it. They figured out what was happening, and saw that it was hurting the cohesion of their team. Once the team understood the issue they changed their work habits and the culture slowly changed.

They changed the way the team works. They stopped making decisions in person or on the phone. Discussions happened on the developers’ mailing list and face-to-face discussion became secondary. The core team didn’t stop talking or working together, but they accepted that nothing was official until it had been presented to the entire team.

When there were originally only 4 or 5 developers on the project, we thought it was silly to have “trivial” dialog on the mailing list, so we mailed each other privately. Brian Behlendorf, CTO of CollabNet at the time, wisely yelled at us and forced us to do every communication on the public list. We thought his insistence on this was ridiculous, but as soon as we complied we started attracting some unbelievable volunteer developers to the project. (Thanks for setting us straight, Brian!) – Ben Collins-Sussman, Subversion

To flatten your team everyone needs to participate in discussions and make decisions, not just the core. If you are in a two-tiered team, you need to educate the rest of your team. Let them know what is going on, give them specific examples, and make sure to keep it positive. Don’t tell them they are leaving you out; let them know that they are missing your important voice. Your team hired you because you are good at your job. When they don’t include you they are losing out on your contributions.

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