Must Be a Good Team Player

Who would you rather hire to develop your software? Richard M Stallman or David Beckham?

This may seem like a silly question. You have the choice between one of the best software developers around -- and a footballer (!) who probably couldn't write "Hello World" in C (and after all why should he)? The answer's surely obvious. It's got to be RMS, hasn't it? Anyone with a brain can see that.

So why am I thinking that most software managers would prefer to hire David Beckham as a software developer? He's a good team player, that's why. The managers would point out that RMS is uncompromising, awkward, and difficult to manage, and that I'd find difficult to argue with.

But it's beside the point. If I was to refuse a programming task because it was too difficult, and requested to solve a simple problem instead, you wouldn't think much of me as a programmer, and quite rightly. And a good manager should hire the best people, not those who are easiest to manage.

Yet being a "good team player" is nowadays a job requirement, often stated on the advertisement, even for posts such as System Administrator. The implication is there that it's more important than technical knowledge or skills.

Don't get me wrong -- being able to work as part of a team is important for most jobs. But to me, this means helping others who are stuck on a problem, making your work visible to others, volunteering to do things which need done, responding positively to criticism, etc. It doesn't mean not having a mind of your own, or singing the company song.

And "good team players" are not to be confused with Belbin's Team Workers (see The Nine Team Roles). Team workers are people who help make teams gel, or work well together; and who are on hand to resolve personality clashes (or other disagreements) between members. They are valuable where teams are at risk of breaking up, or when they have just been formed.


See Sport and Consciousness: I Was Wrong About Beckham.


This page was linked to from

and was last updated on 2006-01-03 at 20:56.

© Copyright Donald Fisk 2006