5 Steps around the 5 monkeys in your team

Or: How to understand and make changes in a team’s culture

I can’t seem to find a definitive reference the original experimentation but I heard this in my management studies at university. I think of it every now and again and can see the impact of the 5 monkeys everywhere I go.

The Experiment

bananasThe experiment involved placing 5 monkeys in a large cage. A few bananas were hung from the ceiling well out of reach of the monkeys, but some boxes (or a ladder in some stories) were placed below the bananas allowing the monkeys to climb up to retrieve the bananas.
As the first monkey headed up the boxes and got within a grab of the bananas he was sprayed with a high pressure hose with cold water. As the monkey scrambled to get out of the road of the hose and cold water, the other monkeys (who had done nothing), were also sprayed.

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As Team Leader, where is your focus?

As a technical team leader, your time is spread across a number of projects and a number of issues. You will have a plethora of different forces pulling and pushing at your time, so much so that you are putting in more hours than is healthy, just trying to get some work done.

focusWith those external pulls and pushes, you can often find that you can look back and find no useful forward motion in your work. It is these times that you will need to re-ground yourself. One way to do this is by asking the question: “What is my focus?”. This one question allows you to re-establish where it would be best to spend your time and know your priorities.

It would be easy to say “the team”, but the answer is not as easy; you could also say “assigning resources” and while that is a large part of your work, it may not be your focus. Ask yourself what is the core focus or single reason for each of the team members. For example, a Developer produces code. Yes, the developer also considers requirements; code reuse; standards; UI and all the other areas, but his/her core focus would be to produce code.

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The Key to Fantastic Customer Service

The Key to Fantastic Customer Service? Cultivating Company Culture!

Kevin Gillam is the Director of Marketing at Ruby Receptionists. Ruby is a leading live virtual receptionist service in Portland, Oregon and provides personalized, remote receptionist service for small businesses throughout North America.

A company’s culture takes over where the employee handbook leaves off. It shows the 

Printcompany’s values, mission, and vision in action and affects not only employees, but every client, vendor, and visitor, too. So, it’s no surprise that the most successful businesses are often those that have the best company cultures and aren’t willing to compromise it.

The Building Blocks

With a solid company culture, your employees will be happier, more loyal, more productive, and look forward to going to work every day. They’ll make it their personal mission to offer great customer service and go out of their way to brighten clients’ days. Sounds pretty good, right?

Here’s how to get started:

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The Four Levels of Competence

It wasn’t until I started to teach my son how to drive that I began to realise the huge amount of skill and knowledge that a new driver had to pick up, that we everyday drivers took for granted.


Unconscious Incompetence

When he first got behind the wheel, my son thought this was going to be so easy. After all, he’d seen me driving all his life and there seemed nothing difficult about it. He knew about the steering wheel, he just needed to know which pedals to press, a little bit of practice, and he’ll be away.

That poor kid didn’t know what he didn’t know, and that is called “Unconscious Incompetence”. Continue reading


The Lao Leadership Style

Lao BanLao Leadership Style” is my own term that I have called the style of leadership discussed here. I hope to study and learn more so that I can expand on this over the coming year.

“Lao” translates into “Senior” as a title in Chinese Mandarin. “Mr Lee”, when given the respect of an elder, would be addressed as “Lao Lee”. Lao, or in this case Elder, can relate to the Father figure, which can sometimes be the Elder Brother. Lǎo bǎn (written as shown in the picture) is the name given to the Boss in China. In this instance, the words Lǎo bǎn is a relatively recent Cantonese addition to the language but its the concept of Elder, or Senior, or Lao Leadership style that I wish to discuss here.

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Even Programmers need to Communicate

Even programmers need to communicate was first written on my old technical blog (Steve’s Software Development Blog) way back in 2009. It received one of the most hits over the years and started a number of discussions on other sites so I’ll repeat that post here as it directly relates to team leadership for technical teams and to this blog.

Few programming teams that I have met really understand how important communication is to their everyday lives. Let me yell this from the highest places I can find – Communication is the most important factor a software team can possess, above technical abilities, above delivery, above project work, above code itself. Without communication, a programming team can die.

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You Can Survive and Thrive in the 4 Team Stages

Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing

The Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model relates to groups and was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. Bruce theorised that these four stages are necessary for all groups coming together.

I have seen this in action too many times to discard this as another theory. This relates not only to new groups coming together, but also to groups going through a fundamental change, for example a new powerful senior joining the group – or when you yourself join an already established group as the new Team Leader.

It is important to recognise these stages for what they are in order to understand what is happening and assist the group as much as you can through them all.

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The Five Skills You Will Need as a New Team Leader

penknifeCongratulations. You have impressed everyone with your technical abilities and because you have been the best, you have now been promoted to a leadership role.

Now you find that it’s not as easy as you thought. Suddenly everyone treats you differently and you are wondering if this was a good move or not. I understand.

The good news is that you were not promoted into this position solely on your technical brilliance. Far from it. You were promoted because you showed someone that you had the ability to do the job; the capacity to learn; and the personality to be a real asset to the team and the company.

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Leading Technical Teams

I have been writing blogs for a number of years. This is a new incarnation where a technical blog has moved more into leadership areas, so I started this as a way of learning and assisting others to also learn.

Far too often, the technical lead or senior developer or most respected technician is thrust into a leadership role, stepping them away from the areas of their technical brilliance into another role completely (I’ll go into this in more depth in another posting). This happened to me a number of years ago. I made a name for myself as a lead developer, created and sold some serious applications that became top sellers, and had the respect of fellow developers for technical expertise – then I was placed into a management position and found myself so far into deep water that I almost drowned.

Suddenly, all the expertise that I was known for meant diddly-squat. I was no longer developing but was leading teams doing things that I had no idea how to do. Needless to say, I struggled with some of this, but persisted. The reason I persisted instead of giving up and returning to being a senior developer is that I found the position difficult, but very rewarding. I guarantee you will as well.

There is something wonderful about producing programs, but this pales in comparison to how wonderful it is to see someone “get it” and flourish, even if they can’t accept that you had a hand in that, it’s still rewarding. Perhaps even more rewarding if they think that they’ve done it all themselves.

I’ve since embarked on a series of studies and experiences that I want to share with you.

Being a leader is a unique place especially in front of a highly technical team. You are no longer a team member, no longer “one of them”. Instead,you are a leader, manager, boss, and mentor. So where do you go for that kinship where you can discuss your day and your issues?


I want this blog to be a place where every leader of a technical team can come to ask questions and get answers. I want to share your stories as well as mine. This is a place for us all to help each other, to overcome the inevitable difficulties we face with each of us knowing that you are under the spotlight for your team and sometimes that’s a very uncomfortable place, but other times a very enjoyable one.

I hope and encourage you to contribute and join the forums, answer people’s questions as well as asking your own. I’d love it if you volunteer to post your own articles here on this blog – please contact me with a subject and outline if you do. If you have a blog yourself that talks about leadership, let me know and if it fits with LeadingTechnicalTeams.com, then I’ll link to it.

Welcome to the LeadingTechnicalTeams blog. I hope to post reasonably regularly but would also enjoy it if you helped.

Steve Peacocke