At the software architecture workshop held in Cortina last February, JC Oberholzer mentioned that he has been doing a special meeting on a weekly basis for the last three years, with the aim of sharing technical information and improve the morale of his team.
In the past, I thought several times about doing something similar but I was never quite sure it could work out in a sustainable way; JC’s example, however, inspired me to try it here at InnerWorkings and, after successfully testing it for almost three months, I can certainly announce that not only it works for us, but it’s becoming part of our DNA!
Would you like some details?
Ladies and Gentlemen let me introduce you a half-baked (bun…oops…pun intended…ok stop!) pattern that you will never forget:
Software developers mature distinct experiences and learn technologies and techniques that can be relevant to others in their team.
How can I share technical information across a team/organization and encourage a healthy self-learning culture?
The most effective developers generally invest a significant amount of their own time researching new technologies, seeking optimal solutions to problems and continuously improving their skills; this is hardly surprising given the rapid transformations that the software industry imposes.
What is needed is a way to encourage team members to share technical information with others.
Volunteer to illustrate and debate a technical topic relevant to the team on a regular basis. Encourage others to do the same by keeping things simple and very informal. Meet for an hour every Friday morning without exceptions, and provide muffins, doughnuts, coffee, etc.
The most important thing to keep in mind with muffin morning is that if presentations become too formal, too long or elaborate, few will be able to contribute as it will require too much preparation; a team deadline could easily break the regularity of the event and muffin morning would become nothing more than a failed experiment.
As a consequence, PowerPoint slides should be absolutely banned and the urge to show live code examples on a projector carefully considered.
I personally find that the most successful presentations are the ones that use a whiteboard only, as they encourage a greater dialog and instigate curiosity to find out more about a particular topic.
One of the biggest attractions of muffin morning is its capability to involve several team members in a communication and self-development exercise.
Independently from their presentation skills, volunteers are almost invariably cheered and supported by the rest of the team since they earn the respect of their peers for their courage and effort.
While volunteers have usually enough interest and understanding of a topic to be able to illustrate it to their peers, it is not expected for them to be experts on the subject. Indeed, often some other team mate may happen to have more experience or knowledge about the subject and consequently play a supporting role for the event.