There is something about sharing a meal together, in a social context outside of the work environment, which contributes more to team building than a thousand and one classes in sensitivity training. We are social animals and breaking bread together is probably the most socially rich experience that we partake in. Consider the fact that this is something usually done with family members, dear friends, and close acquaintances (i.e. except when contrived for business purposes or formal occasions) and you can begin to appreciate why it tends to have such a salutary effect.
If you want to build a lasting bond between team members then learn to do little things from the heart, often. It always seems to be the little things that someone does that makes them stand out in our hearts and minds. Perhaps it is the only way that human beings truly demonstrate their humanity. Kindness cannot be faked. It must be genuine and heartfelt or it ceases to be.
Kindness begets kindness.
Kindness inspires trust. It is probably a natural law that one cannot demonstrate kindness to another human being without wishing them well. It should not be surprising that we tend to respond favorably to random acts of kindness.
There is clearly an accepted (and often expected) software development sub-culture that has emerged over the last 20 years. Some of the key elements of this culture are hard work, creativity and fun. Successful software development organizations such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Borland and Sun work diligently at culture creation and building team identities. This effort ranges from creating t-shirts with team names and logos, to providing code names for all projects (e.g. Chicago for Windows 95).
Why? Because these companies realize that having the appropriate culture contributes significantly to their bottom lines. It immensely improves their recruiting efforts and dramatically reduces employee turnover. It also creates an environment where creativity and productivity flourish.
Man has an innate need to belong, to be part of something that is larger than self. This is an irrefutable historical fact. Whether the larger group is based on race, religion, political ideology, nationality, or the gang from the barrio, the specific manifestation often seems to make very little difference. The need is a powerful one and demands to be satisfied.
A relatively small team, or a number of small teams working in concert, each having a very strong identity, often conspire to bring great software to market. The ability to create a strong team identity is critical to the mission’s success. It is something that the Natural Leader must establish early in the mission’s planning process and continue to strengthen during its execution.