What do the most effective people do to increase the velocity of their teams?
There are several roles people take on teams, that make their teams move faster. I describe one of these roles today, and how you might learn from them.
Role #3: The Dodger
The Dodger’s job is to dodge obstacles.
The Dodger is the person on the team who finds that perfect workaround for things that might set back the team. This role makes the difference between a team that is blocked, and a team that comes up with the solution that keeps things moving forward. If you’ve ever worked with a Dodger, you know it’s an amazing role to have on the team.
How do Dodgers work?
The Dodger is great at coming up with ways to prevent obstacles from being real. The Dodger sometimes does this by refusing to accept that an obstacle is actually a true obstacle. They give themselves a little time to question and challenge obstacles before acknowledging their existence.
Some Dodgers do this through deep technical knowledge. They can go deep on a problem and come out with a solution that saves the day. Or they might just think more deeply about the constraints and situation. Other Dodgers accomplish their goals through other people—they bring others together to solve any blockages impeding the team. These Dodgers are great faciliators. They help a group come up with a solution.
Dodgers are effective because they have an unconventional approach to problem-solving. They question assumptions and constraints. They often are willing to entertain “crazy” or “bad” ideas, and use them in ways that end up being effective.
The defining characteristic of a Dodger, though, is that they make obstacles disappear.
What are the dangers of being a Dodger?
- Dodging obstacles is important, but sometimes Dodgers will focus too much on avoiding obstacles, and not enough on solving the upstream problem that causes the obstacles in the first place.
- Dodgers can sometimes avoid complete work. Hacking around problems can be its own sort of problem. Make sure your solutions aren’t temporary. And make sure other people aren’t always finishing your work for you.
Want to practice being a Dodger?
- Practice questioning constraints. When faced with a new obstacle, explicitly list out the constraints you believe you’re operating under. Consciously go through each of them and question whether they are necessary or true.
- Do deep dives and develop expertise. If you know an obstacle will be discussed, aim to be the person that knows more about the topic than anyone else before it is discussed. Clear your schedule and immerse yourself in the problem space.
- Practice developing multiple solutions to every problem. Try to come up with three solutions to every problem. Explicitly list out the tradeoffs of each approach.
Other velocity roles
Implementing velocity roles: team approach
Having someone on your team with this role can speed things up. But there are some things you can do to practice these roles. Here’s an exercise you can do on your team.
- Have each member of a team choose one of the velocity roles. Have them choose so that each person has a role, but there are no duplicates.
- Have them keep it secret which one they’ve chosen.
- See if after a month everyone else on the team can guess which role the other team members chose.
- Rotate the roles each month, so everyone gets to try each role.
- Talk about what you learn.
Your team should be more focused, efficient, and productive. And the team members should have an appreciation for different work styles.
Implementing velocity roles: individual approach
If you are practicing velocity roles as an individual, it’s easiest if you have someone to observe. So start out by looking to see if anyone you know is good at that role. Then watch what they do carefully, and emulate anything you think is effective.
If you don’t have anyone in your work life that is good at that role, then you can create reminders to yourself to practice that behavior. I’ve also found it useful to set aside some time to think about how I could act if I were better at that Role. Thinking through it should give you some concrete actions you can take if you were better at it. Through practice, you may find you exhibiting that role in a lot of your daily life.
A speech, resurrected
I’ve presented this content in a couple of forms: several talks, internal to a company, and external. I’ve also written it up on a corporate blog (it’s since been deleted).
For some reason, this content has resonated more than perhaps anything else I’ve done. I’ve had people come up to me years after one of those presentations and talk about it! After I gave the presentation at an internal company event, someone made laminated cards for all of the roles and handed them out to every team in engineering!
I’m reworking the roles a little as I write them up, so many years later. And let me know what you think – I have never had a reliable way to understand what resonates!
Have you known a Dodger?
Are you a Dodger? Have you known other people that you now recognize as Dodgers? Let me know if I missed any observations or could describe this role better!
The first version of this was created when Kirby Frugia, Darin Swanson, and I huddled in a room and brainstormed behaviors. I believe Keizan Shaffer and I also brainstormed a version of this for managers.
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