Three things of 2020

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3 vintage telephone on the wall Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

3 minute read

Below are three things that when I reflect back on 2020 that stand out to me. I’ve purposely not mentioned COVID because I think this is one thing that all of us would have on our list so didn’t think there was anything more I can say on this that no one else is already thinking. I’ve also included my three things from 2019 at the end which I still think are important. 

🌳 You can’t stick your apples on other people’s trees

  • Something that Sarah has been trying to tell me for some time but it never really clicked until this year 💡
  • I’ve learned a lot this year about how we learn and what we can do to enable more or it
    • My apples…
  • But there is one thing that keeps coming back
  • It doesn’t matter how many different ways you find to engage people with the content
    • Unless they really care about it they may never have the insights that you think they should have 
    • They may never see the benefits you do or incorporate that that information into their ways of working 
    • This is all about trying to stick your apples on other people’s trees…
  • Usually they are just too busy to even be able to give it the time 
  • The best approach is for them to find ways to incorporate into their own learning 
    • To encourage them grow their own apples…  
  • This takes a lot more time than simply forwarding a link to read or even sending them on workshops/training courses… 

Speaking of apples…

🍎 Informal Relationships

Informal Relationships between team members is the key foundation for high performing engineering teams

  • Most teams members can work with each other quite efficiently but the level with which we do makes the difference between low and high performing teams 
  • We can cooperate and coordinate quite well as can be seen by how well teams can slice up work into tickets and hand them off to the next stage (cooperating). Some teams take this further and begin coordinating their actions using information from their step in the process to inform the next stages (coordinating)
  • But coordinating with teams members isn’t enough we need to be able to collaborate because of the level of complexity we work in means no one person can ever know it all. This essential and often forgotten detail makes team members interdependent 
  • It’s the level of how well we can collaborate and work through problems that gets teams towards higher levels of performance. This performance can be measured by how sustainably the team can deliver end user value (throughput)
  • Psychological safety plays a big part in this interdependence and collaboration and can be characterised by how well people in the team can “just talk to each other” 
    • Psychological safety being the belief of individual team members that it is safe within their work environment to take interpersonal risk 

🎓 Learn more: Fundations of great teams? Start with relationships

🍏 Manager or Leader? 

Understanding the difference between the two can be really helpful  

  • One of the things that has really stood out for me this year has been the difference between management and leadership
  • I always conflated the two and never really appreciated the difference
  • Since then I’ve not looked at software engineering teams the same again
  • Do other make the same mistake? 
    • Leading to confusion on when we should be leading our teams and when we should shift to a more management style 
  • A Hybrid model may also be workable 
    • especially the closer you get to where the work is happening 
    • With a heavy slant towards leadership then management 
    • But the further you get from it the more a leadership style works best 
  • A simple heuristic: 
    • the less experienced a member of staff then a more hybrid approach 
    • but the more experienced they are then a more leadership style is appropriate  

Three things 2019


  • Working as a team will accomplish more than just working alone 
  • I’ve tried and accomplished some things with some good results 
  • But nothing compared to what I’ve contributed to as a team
  • But it starts with trust… 


  • that people really do know what the best course of action is
  • They just sometimes need help thinking things through 
  • Which needs people to listen…  


  • And I mean really listening
  • This has by far been the most important thing I’ve done this year
  • Just asking very open questions and listening to what people say 
  • I’ve learned more about people and what is happening in our teams from this than any other way 
  • The interesting thing is the people I’ve listened to seem to get so much more out of it 
    • I think this is because not many of our team members get a chance to be listened to… 

What are your three things for 2020?

Let me know in the comments below

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