A cautionary tale of over-confidence in your own opinions

I was talking with a friend a while ago, and he was lambasting his place of work for allowing a member of the team to ride roughshod over the rest of the development team. This particular individual had the final say in practically every technical decision and senior colleagues (managers) would hang onto his every word. They took everything that came out of his mouth as gospel. I asked how this could be. His reply was somewhat startling. He knew more than the managers, and by that token alone he was deemed a technical demagogue.

And that’s all there was to it. By simply knowing more than those above him, he was afforded decision-making responsibility far above his station. If anyone else tried to criticise those decisions, they were undermined by either (or both) the individual in question or the managers.

The fault here lies with both the individual and the managers. The individual was overly confident in their technical prowess and didn’t think they needed to seek the opinions of their peers. And the managers never bothered to ask if the opinions were representative of the group or just the individual. They were happy to simply go along with what they were being told. After all, he’s the technical expert so he should know what he’s talking about and we trust him implicitly to make those decisions.

Where this falls down, is that no one can know everything, so no matter how much you think you know, you don’t know everything. There are always alternative ways of doing things, different ways of looking at the same problem. Hearing other voices and opinions is paramount to maintaining a healthy team. When one voice overshadows all the others quickly leads to a toxic working environment, not to mention bad decisions which may cost the business further down the line. Expecting a single individual to know everything (as the managers clearly did) is a dereliction of their managerial duty to both the rest of the team, and ultimately to the business.

You can’t and don’t run a highly performant business based on a few individuals. A business is analogous to a team, where everyone has a part to play. The combined knowledge and skills of a team will always easily surpass those of even the best individuals. A business succeeds by having strength in depth, and that strength comes in the form of the whole team, not just a selection of them (and especially not just one of them).

I have covered the topic of collaboration previously when I talked about software teams being either democracies or dictatorships. It is foolhardy in the extreme to take your opinions from mere individuals, no matter how talented you think they are. A good idea can come from anywhere and from anyone.

Instead of placing your trust squarely on a single individual, place it on the team as a whole. I guarantee you will see better results instantly.

A father, cyclist, vegetarian, atheist, geek and multiple award winning technical author. Loves real ale, fine wine and good music. All round decent chap.

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