Dustin walked into my office on a Monday morning looking a little disheveled, with bags under his eyes.
But he also had a big grin on his face.
I couldn’t help but smile back and said “You look like the cat who swallowed the canary.”
“Yes, but this cat also figured out what caused production to go down this weekend,” he answered with satisfaction in his voice.
Production had indeed gone down Saturday and my team had quickly figured out a temporary solution to get the wheels moving again, but hadn’t figured out the root cause.
“Wait, I’m confused. I thought Amber was on-call this weekend.”
Dustin looked down and shuffled his feet. “Yeah, well she had something going on, so she asked me to help out.”
Ah, Amber. This didn’t surprise me at all.
“Dustin, didn’t you have an out of town wedding to attend?”
Dustin responded while avoiding my eye contact. “Um, yeah, but she sounded desperate.”
It turned out Dustin had indeed solved the problem with the code. But I had a bigger problem. How was I going to deal with Amber’s ongoing tendencies to take advantage of other team members?
Others on the team had complained to me about her, but interestingly enough, Dustin – who was the primary target of her work being offloaded – never once complained. Actually, he never complained about helping anyone on the team.
Looking as refreshed and chipper as ever, Amber sat across from me later that day. I asked her what happened over the weekend.
Amber said “Oh, that Dustin is a sweetheart. I was busy with my friends hanging out.”
“Hanging out? With friends?”
“Uh huh. We had a great time. Watched a really good movie.”
I shook my head and I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes.
“Amber, when you are on-call you must be available to solve production problems – day or night. Everyone makes this sacrifice one week every other month.”
“But it would have been rude to leave my friends in the middle of a movie for work stuff on a weekend,” she said without a trace of regret.
I sighed and said, “You do realize Dustin was at a wedding?”
With a look of surprise, she flashed an innocent smile and said, “Gosh, at a wedding? Really? I had no idea.”
And amazingly, she was innocent. I confirmed with Dustin that she had no idea he was out of town at a wedding.
Well, she was only partially innocent. She still shirked her on-call responsibility.
Over the years, I have seen this scenario play out over and over again. I have always wondered if some people were just predisposed to dealing with responsibilities differently.
And in the teamwork of software development, this is a critical question.
Givers and Takers
I recently came across research that delves into this exact topic. Give and Take is a book by Adam Grant, a professor in organizational psychology at Wharton School of Business. His research found people can generally be cast into three categories – givers, takers and matchers.
Givers look to help others without any strings attached. They make an introduction, give advice, or share knowledge – and never expect reciprocation.
Dustin was a giver. He would spend hours mentoring new team members and never think about what he would get out of this altruistic effort.
Takers are people who, when interacting with another person, are trying to get as much as possible from that person and contribute as little as they can in return, thinking that's the shortest and most direct path to achieving their own goals.
Amber was a taker. She would leverage everyone else’s good will and willingness to help. Even though she was perfectly capable of completing an assignment on her own, she would always look for shortcuts through other team members’ generosity. This was especially the case with Dustin.