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A Measure of Your Team's Health: How You Treat Your "Idiot"

samzenpus posted about 8 months ago | from the bottom-of-the-barrel dept.

Businesses 255

Esther Schindler (16185) writes "Every team has someone who at the bottom of its bell curve: an individual who has a hard time keeping up with other team members. How your team members treat that person is a significant indicator of your organization's health. That's especially true for open source projects, where you can't really reject someone's help. All you can do is encourage participation... including by the team "dummy.""

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Really? (5, Funny)

sethradio (2603921) | about 8 months ago | (#47147827)

I can't rejects someones help on my open source projects? Linus Torvalds is really mean then.

Re:Really? (5, Funny)

sethradio (2603921) | about 8 months ago | (#47147843)

Considering my grammar, I must be the idiot in this case.

Re:Really? (4, Funny)

OakDragon (885217) | about 8 months ago | (#47147965)

I was wondering if this is a case of "if you don't know who the team idiot is, YOU are the team idiot"...

Re:Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148041)

I am the team leader. I am also the team idiot. I work for the government. Coincidence? I think not.

Re:Really? (4, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 8 months ago | (#47148063)

Depends on the project.

Something as popular and heavily-supported as the Linux Kernel? Fuggit - Torvalds has his pick of talented people to choose from, and uses his rather entertaining personality to insure that the slackers and dullards behave themselves. Note that his commit refusals are usually well spelled-out (if it even gets to his level - usually one the the 2nd or 3rd-level maintainers will reject it for some reason or other, so if Torvalds gets involved, it's usually based on some architectural or philosophical reason, and that in turn is usually very well explained.)

Now for Joe Sixpack's Uber-l33t CMS Mod for Drupal? Umm, okay... you take what you can get and you'll like it, but honestly, the same method can apply. If someone pulls a boner and tries to commit it, you explain in precise and objective terms *why* the thing was rejected. If the reason is philosophical, you explain it in a neutral manner, promoting the philosophy in question, and explaining why the rejected change doesn't meet it.

Note that none of this applies to a professional environment, where the team members are being *paid* for their skills. Also note that there's a lot of reasons why the guy is the low-man on the team totem pole - few of them having to do with coding ability.

I mean it this way: if you have a team full of rockstars, the 'idiot' may well be a planet-crushing badass by developer standards, but isn't as good as the other guys on the team - sort of like a top-notch AAA athlete finding himself playing on a pro MLB team. Or, it may be that the 'idiot' is a coding rockstar in a team full of ordinary devs, but he's a bit anti-social, hates or cannot fully grok the team's particular interpretation of Agile/Waterfall/Whatever-your-team-is-using, or for some similar reason isn't the guy who looks as good in the scrum master's eyes.

Long story short - the concept would need a friggin' book to explain in full, and requires more than just light managerial skills.

Re:Really? (4, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | about 8 months ago | (#47148545)

Too lazy to RTFA, I take the meaning of the summary this way:

Like a society can be judged by how it treats its elderly, infirm, and more fragile members, a coding project (open source or privately funded) can be judged by how it treats its least well regarded developer.

Are you Nazi Germany, do you show people the door based on the color of their eyes/hair, how tall they are, their GRE scores, or how they perform on some arbitrary admission test before you give a 15 minute in-person interview?

Are you Genghis Khan's Mongolia, do you abuse and then fire anyone who isn't running at the front of the pack? Rank and yank does not generally improve morale.

Are you the European Middle Ages, do you just ignore your weaker team members and let them be consumed by plague rats / drown in their own stinking code while you isolate the shipping product in the ivory tower?

Are you a more modern quasi-socialist society where you educate your weaker team members as best you can and enable them to contribute as they are capable?

There are cases to be made for the advantages and efficiencies of all approaches, but, generally, you need to be a strong development team to carry and build up the weaker team members - if everybody is too focused on product and producing to care about helping their fellow team members to improve, your team is overtaxed (too weak for the job at hand) and probably not able to perform well (provide a reliable living wage for the developers while producing and maintaining the product) in the long term.

even more telling... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47147841)

is how management treats said person.

Re:even more telling... (5, Insightful)

chipschap (1444407) | about 8 months ago | (#47148001)

As a former technology manager, I can say that (at least as I saw things) the challenge and responsibility of management is to understand the capabilities of the staff and get them into roles in which they can succeed. If someone is underperforming in a certain job, then the manager must get them into a job in which they can perform. Everyone wins in such a case. The organization doesn't need to go through a fire/hire cycle, and instead ends up with an employee who contributes. The employee keeps his/her employment and, as a real contributor, definitely feels better about him/herself. (This needs to be done without a salary cut, which is destructive to everyone's morale, not just the staffer.)

This is, of course, if the employee is at least making an effort ... laziness or not caring is a different issue.

Re:even more telling... (1)

atherophage (2481624) | about 8 months ago | (#47148311)

Exactly, it's a management issue. Employee reviews should catch the lack of productivity. It's a different issue when the under-performer takes advantage of his or her status/ won't get-up-to speed. When management refuses to act on blatant productivity issues morale plummets. First management steps should identify the problem then make corrective efforts. But if the efforts fail termination should be an option otherwise the organization is merely enabling bad behavior.

Re:even more telling... (3, Funny)

Ultracrepidarian (576183) | about 8 months ago | (#47148003)

He is the manager.

even more telling... (2)

globaljustin (574257) | about 8 months ago | (#47148641)

to me the more telling thing would be **how they define the "idiot" **

is it a team of jackasses? in those situations, the person trying to actually get work done will be in constant friction with other team members

so if a team of 5 has 3 idiots and 2 regular workers, and only 1 of the 2 is the type to speak up in groups...

that *one* person will be the constant voice of oppposition

and they become the "idiot" in a team of idiots...

Re:even more telling... (2)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about 8 months ago | (#47148851)

is how management treats said person.

Probably pretty well, considering management usually is the idiot.

The manager. (5, Insightful)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 8 months ago | (#47147851)

>> Every team has someone who at the bottom of its bell curve: an individual who has a hard time keeping up with other team members

The manager. Badoom-cha!

>> That's especially true for open source projects, where you can't really reject someone's help

New to open source, are we?

Re:The manager. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47147991)

Yeah I was just about to say that, the "team dummy" is also usually the boss, more often than not.

Depends (4, Interesting)

Ravaldy (2621787) | about 8 months ago | (#47147869)

Some organizations are large enough and organized enough to help employees grow in their current and future roles but some are too small and cannot afford the down time as they require expertise right away.

That said, in my experience individuals who struggle to get to the level of competence required are more loyal employees hence a reduced cost of employment long term. They are also more accepting of a slower career path.

My 2 cents.

Re:Depends (3, Insightful)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 8 months ago | (#47147943)

are more loyal employees hence a reduced cost of employment long term.

Are you factoring in the costs associated with the other people on the team having to do/redo this person's work or go over with them how to do something for the tenth time?

If after a sufficiently long period of time someone can't get up to speed, the folks at the top might want to suggest to them to find another career. Being loyal and friendly is fine, but if others have to constantly check and recheck their work, that is just wasted time and increased costs.

Re:Depends (3, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 months ago | (#47148009)

And this is the problem and why the question is stupid.
No definition of idiot.
There will always be someone on a group that isn't as smart as everyone else.

So there is the person who can't not learn, and then there is a person who so a little slow. Widely different response to that issue.

Re:Depends (4, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | about 8 months ago | (#47148693)

"Idiot" or "dummy" misses the point, I think. Never confuse activity with productivity, or "who cares how fast you go if you're going the wrong way".

I love programmers who may work slower, but are diligent and make sure they're doing the right thing. Follow coding standards, ask questions when they're not sure how to proceed, etc. I barely care if they contribute less than others, as long as it's predictable, as you'll size projects to the available staff anyhow.

I hate programmers who do work someone else has to fix. Ignore important coding standards, don't test, or simply solve the wrong problem. You pretty much have to count them as zero or negative in terms of team contribution, no matter how much code they may spew out.

Re:Depends (2)

Trepidity (597) | about 8 months ago | (#47148067)

Really depends on the company and type of work. In some companies, there are very large startup costs getting someone up to speed doing anything, so whether someone is likely to leave is a big consideration. A mediocre employee who sticks around in that case might be better than a superstar who has a 50% chance of leaving within less than 5 years.

Less often the case with pure programming jobs, especially on common platforms like web-tech and such, where good people tend to come in already knowing a bunch of the tools. But it's a fairly common situation in engineering, where companies often have extensive in-house stuff, ranging from in-house simulation software to proprietary chemical processes and equipment.

50% Chance of Leaving in 5 Years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148275)

That's a huge period of time in high tech. I haven't worked 5 years at any job in my life...

Re:50% Chance of Leaving in 5 Years? (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 8 months ago | (#47148473)

It's a pretty low period of time in engineering; generally the people doing the high-level work are those who've been there 10+ years and know everything inside and out. If you've only been working on a, say, a polyethylene process for only 2 years, you're not exactly a seasoned expert who people are going to trust to make significant changes to the process.

Re:Depends (1)

Ravaldy (2621787) | about 8 months ago | (#47148705)

As far as I can read, they aren't talking about complete incompetency. Just someone needing more help to get to the same point.

Re:Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47147953)

I worked for one of the most famous Stock Exchanges. Management did not give two $hits about our growth. Then again our department was regarded as the "stupid" one in the company....even though we were the first line of defense for the trading systems.

I am hoping to find a company that invests in their employees.

Re: Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148345)

yea i used to work for that famous stock exchange too, the organization did not value employees one iota

How are Anonymous Cowards treated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47147875)

Slashdot refers to unregistered commentators as "Anonymous Cowards", so they probably have no issue publicly labeling the person at the bottom of their Slashdot curve as "The Idiot".

Re:How are Anonymous Cowards treated? (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 8 months ago | (#47148541)

Well, you're definitely an idiot. What does lazyiness and/or cowardice have to do with being an idiot?

The fact you can't figure that out assures your place on the totem pole.

Backwards. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47147887)

That's especially true for open source projects, where you can't really reject someone's help.

That's backwards.

In an open source project, you're free to ignore anything offered by the 'idiot' (if you were in a senior role, you'd not accept their patches, else you'd fork, become senior, then not accept their patches). (I'm assuming an unpaid voluntary scenario here.)

In a workplace, you're stuck with who you're stuck with. Even if you're a 'leader' or a manager. If you don't include the idiot, you'll be designated as not a team player, and you become the new 'idiot'.

The summary defines the problem. (2)

Virtucon (127420) | about 8 months ago | (#47147907)

Sorry, calling or dealing with somebody as a dummy or an idiot is not constructive. If other team members look down on an individual because their skills aren't the same then that's the teams problem and it's basically representative of an obnoxious mentality. While we all might laud our own abilities, in someone's eyes they're less than competent because it's all a matter of perspective.

Sure, there's people with deficient skills and that's a training issue. There's also my old favorite from WWII: "First you instruct, then you advise and if that doesn't work, you hospitalize."

Re:The summary defines the problem. (3, Insightful)

preaction (1526109) | about 8 months ago | (#47147997)

Disclaimer: I did not RTFA.

You seem to believe that everyone is capable, and indeed wants to push themselves to do above-average things. I've got at least one co-worker whose skills were born of the COBOL days and though the language he writes in has changed, he feels obsolete and has little desire to compete at the level of, say, me (and I don't blame him, he has a family and his free time is a lot more valuable than the time I spend reading technical manuals and doing programming for fun). He gets his work done, though he may not do it up to my own personal standards, I am not his boss and will not dictate how he does things.

That said, he is reliable, he converses with clients well, he understands the code that the more-advanced developers create and can fix bugs in it just fine. He's great at small solutions to relatively small problems, but I wouldn't trust him to start a major new project requiring a stable, flexible API that has lots of interlocking/interchangeable parts.

Yes, calling them an idiot or a dummy or indeed any disparaging adjective is not constructive (and is probably outright false), but if the boss has a large, complicated project that cannot go wrong (must deliver on-time and under-budget), the boss will not pick the person who can't deliver. Yes, the title of this article says more about the author than it does the people the author is describing, but we're not all "rockstar developers", and we can't all be treated as such.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148395)

> "He's great at ..."

That is the key point. If someone has enough net value, then they should be treated decently. If they don't have enough net value, whoever has management responsibility should consider cutting them loose, or encouraging them to move on. The "encouraging to move on" should not involve bad social treatment, just maybe a pay cut and no nice office.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about 8 months ago | (#47148017)

It's much better to come up with a euphemism that idiots can't understand, that way we still have a way to refer to the problem ("Elliot's special needs", etc), without hurting his feelings.

By actually calling Elliot an idiot and a dummy, the author carelessly describes the "challenged" person in question with the most concise words in the English language for this condition. Because of this the reader immediately understands what the author is talking about, without needing to decode the meaning between the lines. He's undermining the system that society has engineered to allow us to call people idiots without feeling the guilt of calling them idiots.

We all know that everyone has equal intelligence and ability. It's just that some people need a little extra help to reach their full potential.

The summary defines the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148039)

Not being technically competent is not necessarily the issue here. I've worked with plenty of offshore "resources" and they are very careful to AVOID making ANY decision whatsoever (to the point I suspect they must be trained that way). Which is good and dandy for IT work and simple bug fixes, but make them completely useless for software development.

Also, in my current team our "idiot" is so scared of making mistakes that she tries hard to basically do as little as possible to fit the verbatim requirement for a task. That basically means that she will rather put a patch than find and resolve the underlying cause of an issue, making the code base WAY more complicated than it should be, generally resulting in extra time and effort for the rest of the team.

We, of course don't use any derogative term to her (after all, we are all professionals), but the question planted in the article is still relevant and I simply see the term "idiot" as a vehicle to convey a concept rather than an insult of any kind.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148061)

On any decent team, everyone takes part, and has some role they do well. The network guy may not understand the UNIX stuff, and vice versa, but there shouldn't be a "village idiot" in the team, period. There may be a newcomer, but they need to come up to speed.

In a few companies I have worked for, there is the one person hired on because they have connections or just have nowhere else to go in a company. The best you can do with people like that is give them their "window office", rope them in every so often for some company shin-dig, and go on as normal, not factoring them in.

I've learned never to call someone an "idiot" in the workplace, even quietly to a cow-orker. That "idiot" may end up a manager and that cow-orker telling the "idiot" what you said when he is brown-nosing may cost one their job or career.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148215)

even quietly to a cow-orker. That "idiot" may end up a manager and that cow-orker telling the "idiot" what you said when he is brown-nosing may cost one their job or career.

Simply by using that word you've invalidated much of your point.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#47148127)

Pretty much this.

I don't have an "idiot" on my team. I have a handful of people, all with various advantages and disadvantages. My best analyst is horrible at writing reports. But I have someone who is a rather mediocre analyst but can write reports in such a way that it fits like a glove to the intended audience (as you may expect, you write differently for techs and management).

The trick is to put the right person to the right job. Yes, that means you have a bit of overhead where they have to interface, but the end result is PERFECT rather than mediocre.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (1)

onepoint (301486) | about 8 months ago | (#47148461)

This is so amazingly true, well at least about myself. I find that I am the most likely the bottom of the pile when it comes to planning, but flow charting the idea out completely, I got everyone beat. It works like this and I am laughing while writing this:

Someone had the idea
I R&D the idea
I flow out all the steps to the idea in insane detail
I hand it over to more people to gather even more details
Get it back and re-flow the entire idea
I hand in back to some-else to put a time frame
Get's back into my hands and I try to re-flow it out for efficiency, moving parts around (huge mind map mostly)
Back to the time frame guys
Kicked up to someone else
Goes into testing (production)
Comes back to me, the results are validated or the idea tossed into the can and we record where we made mistakes.

Funny, I've never looked how fun my work can be.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148833)

The only idiot "on" the team is the person hiring/selecting people for the team. obviously they are not doing their job very well. A team not performing well or not being made up of people with the right skills is most likely a management issue.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (1)

Junta (36770) | about 8 months ago | (#47148189)

Sure, there's people with deficient skills and that's a training issue.

There are also people who do not have relevant talent for whom no amount of training will address.

Sure, maybe it's impolite to use words like 'dummy' or 'idiot', but sometimes you have people who are not and can not be useful for tasks that you need. Really good leaders recognize the difference between a talent and skills gap and figures out who can do what even if it requires some investment, but the road is not always a rosy one. Even getting rid of someone is usually ok, because a person with mismatched talent will generally be able to find unrelated work that is far more gratifying as it aligns with their situation better.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (2)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 8 months ago | (#47148243)

It depends.

There is a time to enable -- that is, be patient -- with others, and there is a time to NOT put up with disruptive behavior. Sometimes tough love involves calling a spade a spade.

Often it is better to help nurture the person and help them grow to overcome their weaknesses. Sometimes the fundamental problem can be "resolved" with communication -- put them on probation and see if they are willing to improve.

Other times the problem comes down to productivity. When the "idiot's" lack of quality starts effecting other people's work then sometimes the best course of action is to jettison the idiot. That is not being "obnoxious"; it is instead about "focusing on getting the job done with the least possible amount of delays." You can have idiots in design, in management, in development, in ops, etc. You usually can't control people outside your group, but if you are a manager and there is someone who is dragging the rest of the team down by causing everyone else to redo their work, etc. sometimes the best wake call is to fire their ass.

People who lack critical thinking is not a training issue. As they say "You can't fix stupid."

There is no "silver bullet" because the situations aren't always "black-and-white."

Re:The summary defines the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148613)

People who lack critical thinking is not a training issue. As they say "You can't fix stupid."

I thought the general consensus was that you let him destroy everything you've built for 4 years, and then elect him again to do it again......

Re:The summary defines the problem. (1)

Esther Schindler (16185) | about 8 months ago | (#47148335)

You wouldn't have read the article if I had called it, A Measure of Your Team’s Health: How You Treat Your Less-Productive-But-Still-Well-Meaning Members. Also, we all do say, or at least mutter, "Elliot is such an idiot!" particularly in headdesk moments.

Re:The summary defines the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148631)

I would not use the word dummy or idiot. But if there is someone who doesn't have the skills, I will look down on them and consider myself as a better worker. I will even show this by asking frequently how they are proceeding and do they have any problems that I could help with. Also when I review their code, instead of normal few word comments, I might use complete code examples and give several arguments for why something should be done differently. Sometimes I even pair code with them and tell them directly how to write the code if it seems that they can't get it from normal web tutorials.

I know that I'm not a nice person, but I care more for the code than people who write it.

How Would the Author Know? (2, Interesting)

Collective 0-0009 (1294662) | about 8 months ago | (#47147911)

As soon as I read this paragraph, I stopped listening to anything she had to say:

I’ve been very lucky. Over the past several decades, in different industries and roles, I’ve worked on quite a few teams that seemingly had a perfect balance of skills and personalities. That’s not to say that every project was successful – outside influences sometimes made them fail – but the experience always was deeply rewarding.

You catch that? The only time one of her projects has failed in decades, it was due to external reasons. Nope, not her fault, or the team, but "them".

I am willing to bet she has that same attitude about the people on her team. Nope, not her fault, but the "idiot" on the team. She was probably the idiot a few times, but was unable to recognize her own odor.

Re:How Would the Author Know? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47147955)

and this:

"He never quite realized it when he handed in substandard work (such as newsletter articles I always had to rewrite; since the published articles said what he meant, he didn’t realize they’d been rewritten)."

Or he knew this person was a completely full of themself asshole but lacked the balls to confront them for fear of losing their job or beating the crap out of them

Re:How Would the Author Know? (1)

niado (1650369) | about 8 months ago | (#47147957)

Nope, not her fault, but the "idiot" on the team. She was probably the idiot a few times, but was unable to recognize her own odor.

It's like the poker adage - if you can't spot this fish at the table...

Re:How Would the Author Know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47147981)

I would like to go work for her. Ah the freedom to be an idiot and never be accountable or expected to provide results.

Re:How Would the Author Know? (1)

Esther Schindler (16185) | about 8 months ago | (#47148223)

Is that really what you thought this was about?

There's a big difference from someone being semi-competent or having a "dial-it-in" attitude and someone who's just not up to the rest of the people around him. With the former, team members resent the individual: "Why am I working so hard when you can't be bothered? I just have to pick up the slack" -- and that creates dissension and a management nightmare.

With Elliot (and the many team members I've known like him), it's obvious to everyone that he's doing the best he can; he's just dumb (relative to the others around him). He can be frustrating, but it's not because he has a bad attitude; quite to the contrary. HE WANTS TO HELP. In a healthy team, everybody does his best to find a way for him to do so.

Re:How Would the Author Know? (1)

conner_bw (120497) | about 8 months ago | (#47147989)

> She was probably the idiot a few times, but was unable to recognize her own odor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D... [wikipedia.org]

Re:How Would the Author Know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148021)

When your team doesn't get all its planned work done because leadership changes the acceptance criteria on the due day, I think it is fair to blame external factors for the failure.

Especially when the criteria is something the team had discussed with them in depth at the beginning of the project, and re-iterated during the demos throughout the course of development.

(disclaimer....I don't know if this is the author's situation. But it was mine. More than once)

Re:How Would the Author Know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148313)

Sure there's that. There's also the case where a new manager does not want to inherit the prior manager's projects, and simply flat-out lies about the project status to make it look like a failure. Yeah, I'd blame external factors for that failure. (I did and I do...)

Re:How Would the Author Know? (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about 8 months ago | (#47148053)

And she also attributed her high success rate to luck (the luck of being on teams with other really talented people).... Not traditionally a way to claim credit you don't deserve.

Re:How Would the Author Know? (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 8 months ago | (#47148291)

> As soon as I read this paragraph, I stopped listening to anything she had to say ...

Not to detract from your other point ... so you toss the baby out with the bath water ?

Maybe the writer is an idiot, but just because they failed to understand one point doesn't make the rest of their conclusions automatically invalid.

(Note: She doesn't understand open source. Developers ARE perfectly willing to reject outside help. i.e. submitted code doesn't meat the code standards, is incomplete, doesn't account for all edge cases, etc.)

Re:How Would the Author Know? (1)

Esther Schindler (16185) | about 8 months ago | (#47148363)

Um, no.

I have had lots of projects fail. Some were my fault. Some were management. Some were external. Plenty of reasons.

My point is that the existence of the team being ever-so-awesome does not necessarily have a correlation with its success. Just as actors can tell you about working on a movie with other actors where everyone felt creative and warm-and-fuzzy towards each other, and it has no influence on whether the movie is a commercial success.

Re:How Would the Author Know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148723)

Add unable to clearly express an idea to the list of reasons not to listen.

Bloggers, they keep trying as hard as they can to be journalist, but just can't seem to keep up with the real talent. Well, maybe next time she can hand the blog to someone else so they can say what she meant. I think Elliot is free these days!

Re:How Would the Author Know? (1)

Esther Schindler (16185) | about 8 months ago | (#47148819)

Ha ha ha ha.

Sorry. Just looking at my track record as a journalist, and comparing it to your comment. It made me snicker.

And if you can't pick out the idiot on your team.. (2)

darth_MALL (657218) | about 8 months ago | (#47147917)

...it's usually you.

Wedgies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47147921)

How you treat your idiot? Give them a wedgie in the locker room.

Oh, I thought you were talking about sports teams.

Re:Wedgies? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#47148047)

And it was about idiots. Not the class geek.

Re:Wedgies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148301)

"Every team has someone who at the bottom of its bell curve: an individual who has a hard time keeping up with other team members."

Sounds like the class geek to me. How do you deal with an idiot who can't even catch a ball? Probably put him off by the sideline where he won't get any hard shots.

Stupid premise. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 8 months ago | (#47147949)

Sure, there is someone at the bottom of the curve. But, in a healthy organization, that person is NOT an idiot. Even classically defined morons are capable of stuffing envelopes though, just don't make them project managers.

The way you handle persistent net negative producers, is to drive them away with pitchforks and torches. Preferably while they are still on probation.

How do you handle someone, who keeps coming to you with bugs he can't handle, when examples of these bugs include string concatenation operators winding up in SQL (once he starts hacking on the code)? Clearly he's out of his depth, trying to modify dynamically constructed SQL when he has yet to master string concatenation? Has to go. (Yes, the right thing to do might be to make a stored procedure, but that's another discussion.)

Sometimes the "idiot" isn't the problem. (4, Interesting)

Dzimas (547818) | about 8 months ago | (#47147951)

I've had the delightful experience of being treated as the team idiot simply for declaring that the emperor had no clothes. It was one of those death march instances where a company decided to write a "version 2.0" of their extremely good program from the ground up. They brought in extremely skilled and expensive technical leads who developed a complicated new back end that was designed to be as "infinitely versatile" and then deployed a front end to match. The result was that they took a very good user experience and turned it into an arcane and slow -- but insanely flexible -- system. Client users absolutely hated the preview releases because they simply didn't let them do their work. I was the unlucky sap who had to provide feedback to the dev team. I decided not to pull punches and deliver a factual summary. The end result? The project lead declared that, "The consulting team simply doesn't understand how the system works" and proceeded to try to ice me out of the company. The organization ultimately failed because the project was such a mess. Unpleasant, but I'm glad I stood my ground and called a spade a spade. It took a while to regain my confidence after that, but my subsequent projects have all been successful and even award winning.

Re:Sometimes the "idiot" isn't the problem. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148379)

In some ways you were the 'team idiot'. Not a technical idiot, but a political one.

Being in a team is not just about the product. It is also about managing your teammates.

If it had been me I would have couched it something like "here is our feedback from our end users it is not pretty" "we have created a system that the end users no longer understand and we will end up with large amounts of wasted time and support issues that may not have anything to do with technical problems" "we have lots of work to meet our customer expectations if we do not meet those they will toss us out on our ear" "training is usually code word for I am ignoring my customers (you know the people paying the bill) and know better than them" Sometimes you do. But in this case it sounds like a technical boondongle.

You had bad feedback and then took on the bad feedback onto yourself. This made you a target. The target should be the software. You tried to make it the team. They shed you as fast as they could.

Some people consider this 'mamby pamby' but someones feelings are hurt and they have instantly become an unproductive person. In some cases they will lash out and do whatever damage they can to deflect blame from themselves.

Its not 'right' but it is the way many people work. Know the system you have been put into. It is a process that can be hacked just like a program. But it takes more than 2 seconds to change a line of code. It takes months of beers, humor, and time. Sometimes the best practice is to be very quiet and listen, then speak.

Different skillsets (5, Interesting)

msobkow (48369) | about 8 months ago | (#47147961)

I've worked on teams with a variety of skillsets over the years ranging from fresh-out-of-college new grads to seasoned "dinosaurs" with 50 years experience. Everyone had something they were good at and could contribute to the project, though many times what they could contribute wasn't technically the role they were hired for.

There was only one exception: a fellow way back in the early '90s who got a job on the project I was on because he'd supposedly done programming for AT&T after graduating from Bowling Green.

The first time we reviewed his code, we realized it was bullshit. Before every single stdio function call, there was a "#include <stdio.h&gt" statement. Every single call!

Further investigation proved that his degree was a fraud -- Bowling Green had no record of any student by his name.

Despite that, he was stuffed in a corner and allowed to "work" the remainder of his six month contract by "reviewing" documentation and marking spelling and grammar corrections with a red pen.

He couldn't even do that -- his English sucked.

But firing him would have put the company at risk of a lawsuit, so they had him make the documentation binders.

So even the worst team idiot can do something "useful" if you've got no choice but to keep them busy with something. :P

hum... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 8 months ago | (#47147985)

Anecdotal evidence from one woman's opinion. Why again is Slashdot becoming a place to crosspost blog posts as fact?

Just for reference, I read this post in the same way this video sounds: http://news.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

and that's not a good thing.

They treat me well (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#47148025)

Really. Hey, they even call me "boss".

"But my team doesn't have one of these!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148037)

(pssst.... it's YOU)

FeMales (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148057)

Or is it sheMales? don't belong programming. Instead, these people should go back to school. First thing to attempt: construct a sentence.

"Every team has someone who at the bottom of its bell curve"

Unless ebonics is somehow back in.

horribly inaccurate (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 8 months ago | (#47148069)

"an individual who has a hard time keeping up"
No, they're just lazy and have a bad attitude and hate their job.

How You Treat Your "Idiot"? (1)

grep -v '.*' * (780312) | about 8 months ago | (#47148071)

I thought we elected them to Congress so they couldn't hurt anybody.

Unfortunately, this seems to have changed somewhat in the last few decades.

Re:How You Treat Your "Idiot"? (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 8 months ago | (#47148369)

/Oblg. joke.

If "pro" means "for" and con means "against" ... then the opposite of "congress" is called what?

"Idiot"? (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 8 months ago | (#47148077)

There's a meta-problem here if you call the slow guy in your team "an idiot". Anyway, just assign a bit leaner workload on him, problem solved.

Maybe the Arrogant Assholes Are the Issue (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | about 8 months ago | (#47148079)

Any team members that views themselves as somehow intellectually superior and views others as idiots should be shown the door.

Re:Maybe the Arrogant Assholes Are the Issue (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 8 months ago | (#47148149)

/sarcasm Yeah, let's ignore the context for why they would think that! I mean they could never be right !

Sometimes the designers are idiots.
Sometimes the architects are idiots.
Sometimes the programmers are idiots.
Sometimes the marketing people are idiots.
Sometimes the managers are idiots.

You see, stupidity isn't limited to just one class. /sarcasm How dare anyone hold everyone to a productive standard. I mean it is not like quality of code matters, shipping something on time, etc. Oh wait, sometimes business care about that.

But lets just make a mass blanket statement based out of ignorance instead of finding out what is really going on, what the problem is, and what possible solutions are.

Re:Maybe the Arrogant Assholes Are the Issue (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | about 8 months ago | (#47148711)

My point was that arrogant and abusive assholes are the real problem. If you find you actually have a bonafide MORON who is lacking in overall intelligence, then why were they hired to begin with?

From the summary, it seems anyone who was at the wrong end of a bell curve should be the target of derision and abuse.
So, a perfectly capable person who comes up short in any category is now an "idiot" and should be treated as trash.

Frankly, that's a load of shit and any organization that employs people who see that as acceptable and fosters such an attitude deserves to die.

Depends if the "Idiot" is a Volunteer or Paid (1)

BBF_BBF (812493) | about 8 months ago | (#47148091)

In all situations, as a team leader, one has to find a use for the "village idiot" that as the article already states, that doesn't do more harm to the team. A sign of how "good" the team is, is how the individual members treat the well meaning, but incompetent, team member without guidance from the lead.

In a volunteer organization, it's imperative to keep all well meaning contributors on board, but in a company, that person has to eventually be moved out of the team since they're a drag on the group and definitely not suited for the position they're occupying. That's in an ideal world.

However, in real life, in a job situation. Nothing is ever this cut and dry. Not all "idiots" are well meaning, actually most aren't. There are also other dynamics at play at work, maybe the "idiot" is the owner's son... so there's nothing to be done, but elevate him to the level that the "owner" expects. At least for some "blood" relationships, the higher up actually recognizes the person is a cock-up, but has no choice because he/she is family.

It's actually even worse when the employee "idiot" is a "favorite" of one of the higher ups with no blood relationship. These people are the most dangerous to deal with. They can exert extreme negative pressure on your career since they have some "relationship" with the higher up, and that higher up will never listen to reports that they're favorite pet is not qualified for the job, nor doing a decent job, and usually the one that reports such things gets penalized for telling the truth. It's these people that make one's professional work life misery. It's even worse when there is some sort of romantic relationship between the "idiot" and the person higher up in the chain, especially if one or both have other official "significant others". :-( sigh.

Unfortunately, in real life, at a job, one just has to try to minimize the impact on one's team, and shut the eff up and put up with it.

Re:Depends if the "Idiot" is a Volunteer or Paid (1)

onkelonkel (560274) | about 8 months ago | (#47148589)

"both have other official "significant others"

Blackmail is such an ugly word. But it could work in this situation.

Less stress to eject the person (1)

ikhider (2837593) | about 8 months ago | (#47148095)

If you designate someone the 'team idiot', that does not make for a climate pf productivity. The receiving end becomes bitter and the team members wind-up with a scapegoat for his/her own shortcomings. Rookies might start off as the idiot, but they can surpass established members. You have to think, what is the mentality behind 'team idiot'? Is the 'idiot' getting all the resources they need? Are they kept up to speed on the project? Are they part of meetings and social outings? Sometimes business is discussed during these outings and this is how ideas gel. Do we have a culture of exclusivity or inclusivity? If you call someone the idiot, get rid of him/her and do it yourself. If you cannot function without 'the idiot', perhaps you have underestimated her/his abilitiies.

Get rid of them quickly... (1)

uncqual (836337) | about 8 months ago | (#47148101)

...if they are really an "idiot" relative to the rest of the team.

In my experience, great teams have people with diverse skills. Some may be excellent diagnosticians and just decent coders, some may be great at writing tests that provide relevant coverage but poor at documentation, some may be very good at coming up with very efficient algorithms but not so good at debugging problems that cross many subsystems, and so on. At some point, almost every one of these people is occasionally thought, at least for a few seconds, to be an "idiot" by at least one of their team members (perhaps an unspoken sentiment though).

However, the interesting case is when someone is generally thought to be an idiot by most of the team and has no special skill that the team needs. In that case, the employee needs to go, and go quickly.

A good manager should be able to detect if a person has a useful and unique skill that the team doesn't realize the importance of. This is especially true when that skill is externally focused such as interacting effectively with your corporate customers when technical problems arise. If a person has such a skill that the team doesn't realize the importance of, the manager should (subtly) educate the rest of the group what the value of the person is and work with that person to expose that value to the team.

Some of the best decisions I've made as a manger are getting rid of people -- including those we all thought would be good employees when they were hired just a couple months earlier. It can be hard on the team, but keeping the under-performer around is much harder on the team in the long term (and for the employee who was let go - they are better off finding a job more suited for the skills/interests).

Not "How you treat idiots"... (1)

rizole (666389) | about 8 months ago | (#47148129)

...but how you treat each other. All it takes is a little respect, empathy and intellectual/emotional flexibility. Using the word idiot and dummy is pretty condescending and shows a lack of all of those things.

So very true!! (5, Insightful)

Evtim (1022085) | about 8 months ago | (#47148141)

I played the role of the village idiot in my team for almost 2 years. It was due to an unique and very unpleasant set of circumstances [outside work, mostly family and health stuff] that totally destroyed my motivation, concentration and even my will to live. Now this might be somewhat different than what the fine article is talking about, as the condition was temporary and everyone knew I could perform above expectation even bordering on excellent.

Nevertheless, only my direct supervisor was aware of all the facts of my case and he never shared them with the MT [because I asked him not to]. Thus for the MT I was a case of lost motivation, reasons unknown. Despite that, considerable effort was executed both on team level as well on MT level to help me out.

More or less the action was as follows:

- Instead of doing long-term project with uncertain result they put me on important but short-term project so I could see the positive effect of my work immediately and boost my self-confidence.
- Every time I did something good, an MT member would drop by the office to congratulate me in front of everyone
- I never heard a single nasty word about me; no-one spoke about my performance and very importantly they all avoided in making me feel patronized. In line of this I did get negative evaluation for one of those years and was punished financially. I wanted this as I was afraid that if I get a "hand-out" I might loose some of the motivation to get better again.
- They send me working part-time to 4 different teams and also contractors outside the company - meeting and working with many new people on very diverse projects really helped getting back on my feet.
- When they saw the recovery progressing really nicely they threw me on the most urgent project in the whole company where I contributed substantially, gained more "fame" than ever before and was rewarded financially offsetting the previous punishment and then adding some to my career growth.

I count all this experience as a resounding success and I have told them many times how grateful I am.
This is Europe and more importantly the Netherlands. As I have stated here before, there is a bunch of neocon-like politicians in NL [alas, they have the power ATM] that are just itching to destroy the management system of the country, more commonly known as the "the polder model".

They claim the model is not profitable but what they mean is that it is not profitable for their corporate friends. Society as whole wins BIG TIME by using that model and it is CHEAPER (again, if you look at the whole country, not a single company or industry). What would be the profit for society if they kicked me out and I spiraled in misery and depression? Would I ever recover? Would I ever get another job? Could it be that I'd turn into complete burden for society, incapable of supporting myself. In such desperation people turn to drugs and suicide becomes a viable way out.

  Ohh yhea, I just noticed that I imply in the beginning of the last paragraph that the polder model might not be so profitable if you look at specific business. That is false - the company also wins since if I had not recovered they'd have to spend tens of thousands finding and educating a replacement for me [I did the math, our solution was cheaper indeed than hiring another person]. So, apparently the polder model is not profitable for a very small group of people within companies who probably get their bonuses based on very short-term performance so that the long-term negative effects of fucking your employees is not visible at the moment.

Lay them off (1)

avandesande (143899) | about 8 months ago | (#47148153)

Then you won't have to 'treat' them any more.

Re:Lay them off (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148849)

Then someone else becomes the 'idiot'.

No matter where I go. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148161)

No matter where I go, 50% of the people are below average, and average is pretty damned bad.

Misconception (1)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | about 8 months ago | (#47148163)

The postulate "Every team has someone who at the bottom of its bell curve: an individual who has a hard time keeping up with other team members." is a misconception.
Knowing less or having less experience does not tell anything about intelligence or level of idiocy.
Handling newbies, noobs or laggards is an other matter though.
But be careful and contain your own arrogance or ignorance before judging someone else for being stupid.
The project, team or management is more likely to be the actual problem.
Is the documentation ok, is there any at all?
Do you have a program for enrolling new team members or do you just let everybody in?

Remember the golden rule.
When you point at someone, three fingers are ( usually ) pointing back at yourself.

Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148169)

We give him a 3D printer and then he leaves us alone while he make leaky Yoda coffee cups.

A real question. (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 8 months ago | (#47148207)

That is: I will respond to the article as if it's actually asking what it says it is.

If there is an idiot on the team, said idiot should be removed from the team. There are a number of ethical reasons for this. Unless you're implementing the Game of LIfe for the umpteenth time, the project does not have a trivial goal. Anyone else working on the project is perforce pulling said idiot's weight, which means they are being rewarded less than they should be, the project is being completed at a lesser rate than it should be and the project will be filled with more errors than it should be. You're also feeding into the idiot's self-perception that they are competent in that position and they will then fight being moved harder and will exert pressure for promotion that is unwarranted. You're also displaying a willingness to bring the quality of everything else involved down just to spare an idiot's feelings.

Short answer, You're promoting blue ribbons for all.

Types of Dummies (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 8 months ago | (#47148233)

1. Lazy Dummies: Who, while they may be dummies, will never exert enough effort to really accomplish anything. You don't have to worry about them, just give them some trivial and unimportant set of tasks and let them go off on their own since the will never endanger the project.

2. Competent Dummies: They may be dummies relative to everyone else but they have a skill set that is capable of accomplishing some tasks. Assign them tasks commensurate with their skills and keep an eye on them.

3. Enthusiastic Dummies: They don't realize they're dummies and will take on tasks beyond their skills or capabilities, often without telling you because they want to contribute and think they can do it. These are the dangerous ones because they can cause a lot of damage before they are stopped. Keep a close leash on them.

even a team of editors (2)

frovingslosh (582462) | about 8 months ago | (#47148263)

"Every team has someone who at the bottom of its bell curve...." . Even teams of moderators and editors, right samzenpus?

blatantly false premise (1)

sribe (304414) | about 8 months ago | (#47148265)

Every team has someone who at the bottom of its bell curve: an individual who has a hard time keeping up with other team members.

This is simply not true. Some teams are composed of members who are very closely matched.

(Yes, for any skill, there may necessarily always be someone who's least competent, but that can be by an insignificant margin. In fact, it can be by a margin so small that nobody can figure it out.)

"Counseled Out" (1)

Craig Cruden (3592465) | about 8 months ago | (#47148309)

One of the better organizations I worked for if someone was significantly lower than the mean -- then they were "counceled out". There will always be some people that are not meant for the position they hold, and you have to move them out and make that position available to someone that can fit in. If you start holding onto everyone that is below average, your organization will sink and not excel. Any responsibility the organization has to it's employees is to keep it healthy and vibrant for the majority....

Re:"Counseled Out" (1)

ThatsDrDangerToYou (3480047) | about 8 months ago | (#47148439)

One of the better organizations I worked for if someone was significantly lower than the mean -- then they were "counceled out". There will always be some people that are not meant for the position they hold, and you have to move them out and make that position available to someone that can fit in. If you start holding onto everyone that is below average, your organization will sink and not excel. Any responsibility the organization has to it's employees is to keep it healthy and vibrant for the majority....

I worked for a company that illustrates this point exactly. Due to various management issues, all of the "good" people would leave after a few years, but the lesser lights would stick around. Hardly anyone was ever fired or laid off. Eventually the whole site shut down.

Uh oh . . . (1)

StefanJ (88986) | about 8 months ago | (#47148417)

Now I know why I always get asked to collect the folding chairs.


Plan B is a Chinchilla Ranch. Anyone want a cool chinchilla-fur mouse pad?

Hard Course (2)

ADRA (37398) | about 8 months ago | (#47148443)

I've been with many people over the years, and generally hovering a little above the mean, I've met a fair number of dev's that have struggled for various reasons (I've been many of these from time to time as well):

1. The boat anchor -- They have no idea what they're doing and they waste everyone else's time by having correct their lousy work, answering questions (usually the same ones over and over and over), and just generally fristrating to teach anything new to.

2. The lifer -- Not interested in learning anything new and rarely bother unless it makes their carreer on shaky ground -- These people work at a stable though generally slack pace and learn to develop the same way and will never both to investigate new ways of doing things. They are generally a stabilizing force on the team which is often torn between jumping from one paradigm to the next and those that refuse to change anything. Training them to use new tech can be a drag on the team depending on how stubborn they are

3. The free radical -- Generally younger and more naive though not always, the free radical will always try to escape from whatever constraints you attempt ot place them into, and will fight vocally and loudly to get what they want. They will often quote material from a blog or big name in the industry without caring at all how it affects the job or workspace they actually occupy.

4. The well wisher -- Those developers that really really want to do a good job and work hard day in and day out do better themselves, but due to lack of understanding, natural talent, or whatever have a hard time grasping concepts and new areas. You want to help them so badly, and they generally do get better with training, but will never free think themselves out of a problem and will almost always need some level of supervision (and generally they like that).

5. The paycheck -- They check into work to get paid, and although amazingly brilliant or a complete dullard, will never aspire to anything because they're just there to warm the seat and to get paid. Don't get comfortable with them though because they will almost certainly be the first to jump to the next company.

I'm sure there are many more I could add to the list, but I have a meeting to jump off to. Hope this rings some truth.

Old news is decades old (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148455)

"The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members" - Ghandi

Health of Countries? (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 8 months ago | (#47148567)

How does your country treat it's idiots, mentally ill, homeless, disenfranchised?

Re:Health of Countries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148753)

In the US we used to hospitalize people who couldn't take care of themselves. But legal challenges made it very difficult to force someone into care against their will. Many mentally ill people tend to avoid seeking help, so we now have far more mentally ill people who are homeless.

Having help available and having people use it are two different things.

Ask Neutron Jack (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 8 months ago | (#47148607)

His policy at GE was to lay off 10% of the workforce every year, then back fill with new hires.

We called the bottom of the bell curve the canaries [wikipedia.org] . As long as they were around everyone else was safe

What if the idiot doesn't know he is an idiot? (1)

cyn1c77 (928549) | about 8 months ago | (#47148659)

What do you do when the idiot thinks that he is on par with the higher performing team members and rejects the menial jobs?

(I have this problem!)

The "Idiot" is usually NOT the idiot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148745)

But the person who does not fit in. He/she is usually treated poorly and is left out or sabotaged and this leads to poor performance. I have worked in projects "teams" where there has been no "idiot", there has been people with different talents and they are given different tasks.

What is the cost of (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47148801)

repeatedly giving a team what it wants, the removal of anyone they don't like?

Whatever the answer is, that depends on them. Not you.

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