The Dead Simple Guide To Building A Kick-Ass Team

Yesterday I talked about the basics of running a team.  Today I want to go a bit beyond the basics and talk about how to build a kick-ass team.  NOTE: There is an upper bound to your team's ass kicking potential imposed by your organization.  This doesn't mean that you can't kick ass, it just means that you are going to have to calibrate your measurements or implode under the weight of your frustration.  I learned, for example, that the AKP (ass kicking potential) of a large oil company is lower than that of a small or medium software products company.  This doesn't mean that I give up and walk away, I simply have to set my expectations accordingly.  With that out of the way, let's get to it.

Step 1: Have it mean something to be on your team.

You need something to make your team swagger.  The good news is that there are SO many ways to do this that absolutely every team in your organization can do so without conflict.  Swagger is unlimited and does not have to be mutually exclusive.  Here are some examples:

  • You do more work with fewer people than anyone else.
  • You have fewer defects BY FAR than anyone else.  Some number indistinguishable from zero.
  • You have the best hardware.
  • You have the worst hardware and still do better work.
  • You have the best software.
  • You're faster.
  • You're more creative.
  • You generate more revenue.

I could keep going, but you should see the point by now.  If it means something to be on your team, people who identify strongly with what you're doing will want to be on your team.  Almost as good, people who feel negatively about what your team is doing will stay away.  Which brings us to the next step.

Step 2: Prune.

If it's one thing that team leads do poorly, it's prune.  If it means something to be on your team, then not everyone will (or should) belong on it.  Chances are that someone who doesn't belong will end up on your team and it's your job to fix that.  Now, before you start thinking that I'm filled with some sort of managerial bloodlust, let me point out that pruning is a last resort.  If someone on your team isn't working out, first assume that it's your fault.  Go back to yesterday's post on the basics and make sure that you have all three covered squarely.  Then counsel the team member with specific behaviors to change along with measurable steps to take.  And, if that doesn't work out, come to grips with the fact that they simply aren't a good match for your team and that keeping them there is a disservice to them, the other team members, the organization, and yourself.  Prune so that they can find a place that fits.

Step 3: Be on the lookout for new talent.

You will probably have turnover in your team either through pruning or through your team members kicking so much ass that they get promoted.  Always be on the lookout for people who you think would fit, especially people who aren't fitting somewhere else.

Step 4: Replace yourself.

A team doesn't truly kick ass until it can do so without you.  If you don't have a "next in line" identified, then you aren't done building your team.  Having the team depend on you too much is a risk to you, them, and your organization.

Follow these steps and you can make a career of building kick ass teams wherever you go.  Leaving such teams behind when jumping to the next opportunity is the hallmark of a Big Swinging Developer.


  1. Roger Studner says:

    This one is great Jay.. I really enjoy reading these.

  2. Michael Webb says:

    Great points Jay; pruning, although difficult is one of the most important things anyone as a manager does. Weaker performers always have a greater affect on the team than your stars.

    Creating a culture, picking up talent and letting talent go are the cornerstones of building any great team — be it a software team or a football team.

    I really love the point on do more work with fewer people. This creates a culture of action, risk taking, efficiency and elitism – everything thing you need to be kick-ass!

    Keep up the writing!

  3. Eric Pulaski says:

    Great blog Jay. Good luck, and keep kicking ass!