Self-motivated and unstoppable: Associability and 'The Black Team'

How do you grow a team that is so tightly jelled, that it becomes self-motivated, unstoppable and hugely successful? The technical term for this kind of team chemistry might be 'associability', a concept referenced in Viral Change from an academic paper [1]. The term 'associability' is described as the "willingness and ability of individuals to subordinate personal goals and associated actions to collective goals and actions". This is in contrast to 'sociability', which is related to the ability to socialise. While 'sociability' is useful, it is 'associability' that motivates people and the team to achieve more together than the sum of the parts that make up the team.

One well known self-motivated, unstoppable and hugely successful team is the 'The Black Team' from the book Peopleware[2]. The story is an interesting case study in how people with certain behaviours are selected, then combined together and nurtured through these behaviours - producing the net result of high associability. Some of the key drivers in this story are:
  • That people recognised across the company as having behaviours related to being good testers were gathered together in a single team
  • This team developed a philosophy, and associated behaviours, of (1) expecting and wanting to find bugs and (2) getting delight from the ordeal they put programmers through in finding bugs.
  • The team's growing identity that they are destroyers of software further reinforced the behaviours necessary for the team to succeed.
  1. Leana, C.R., Van Buren, H.J. III (1999), "Organisational social capital and employment practices", Academy of Management Review, Vol. 24 No.3, pp.538-5
  2. Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, Second Edition, ISBN 0-932633-43-9