“What makes a good coworker in tech?
What makes a bad one?”
I saw these two questions posted in a coding forum today as part of JC Smiley’s daily questions, which he then reposts with the answers to his LinkedIn feed. If you’re getting started in development, you should follow him.
“What traits or actions would make a horrible co-worker in tech?”
“What traits or actions would make a fantastic co-worker in tech”
I read the replies so far, as I considered my answers. The answers were good examples of specific characteristics:
- No respect for others
- Pushes work onto others
- Doing the minimal amount of work
- Doesn’t ask questions when they need help
- Advance themselves at the expense of others
- “Holds an entire team hostage for their personal predilections” (#suspiciouslyspecific)
- Seeks all the glory for themselves
- Makes every meeting longer than it needs to be
- Doesn’t come through on their responsibilities
The respondents often mentioned specifically that their examples of what makes a great coworker were the exact opposite traits. Which is not surprising, although there’s no reason to assume they are diametrically opposed:
- Willing to help and share knowledge
- Leads by example
- Willing to go above and beyond just because that’s what a good human being should do
- Open to ideas
- Open to discussion
- Good personality
- Asks questions when they need help and gets things done as a result
- Enjoys learning and talking about new things
- The person who makes others better
- Exhibits servant leadership before they have the leadership title
- Being a decent person and treating others like one
I always think about patterns and root causes, and I thought particularly about this as a business-context specific question. We’re not looking for what makes a good person, but a good coworker. Mr. Rogers was an amazing person, but would he make a great DevOps Engineer? I don’t know. The mention of good personality also made me wonder, does being a good coworker require someone to be a good person in general? Is it important to enjoy playing couch co-op Super Mario Party with a coworker? Is the person you’ve shared the most beer with going to make a great coworker?
I believe in philosophy as a core element of business, and one almost entirely overlooked on a daily routine at least. What I believe makes a person a good coworker is what makes a good business, a singular goal; capital T, capital G— The Goal, and alignment with that goal. We form businesses or other organizations as “machine made out of people” to accomplish some specific end. Whether The Goal is revenue, profit, literacy, health outcomes, or saturating North Korea with wifi access, a lack of transparency and alignment with The Goal is a detriment. The lack of a clearly expressed goal allows individuals within the company to implicitly, perhaps accidentally, pursue independent goals. Alignment with The Goal is a requirement for a coherent and cohesive organization. You may not personally value elbowing someone in the ribs, but if your context is the NBA, if you can’t be aligned with that goal, you don’t belong in that context. The Goal should be so clear that everyone can remember it and quote it easily. So transparent that anyone can point to it on the wall when any debate about decisions is being waged. The Goal should clarify, align, and take out the garbage.
I’m coining as “Business Humility” the specific context of subsuming personal characteristics, goals, and fears to an alignment with The Goal. I am not making a case for slavish devotion to a business, or allowing personal goals to be flattened by a corporate behemoth. I say alignment, which should suggest pursuit of The Goal also accomplishes personal goals along the same path. The coworker who is aligned with the company goal does not have room in his personal philosophy for a fear of being replaced if he shares his technical knowledge with others. He doesn’t need to hoard glory. When a front-end designer makes the decision to initiate a pair programming session, navigating while a junior developer drives from the keyboard, she is showing servant leadership, sharing, teaching, and alignment with the company goals by increasing the bandwidth of her skill set.
A bad coworker is someone is essentially saying through their actions “The company exists to provide for my personal goals.”
A good coworker recognizes that alignment with the company means both parties benefit from the trade. Aligning with a clear and transparent goal, and the business humility displayed is the foundation of being a good coworker.