3 ways managers build team culture around open source

Contributing to open source prevents complacency and teaches people the value of giving to the greater good.
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Whether you are a senior leader or an individual contributor, you make decisions based on your personal, peers', and colleagues' experiences and feedback. If the people around you are evolving, you will grow with them, as will the organization you support. If the backgrounds and knowledge of the people around you are diverse and changing, you and your team will benefit.

I've noticed that my skillset and contributions give diminishing returns if I am not challenged. Human beings tend to get into their comfort zones quickly. We get used to working a certain way, and we start to depend on key people to make decisions for us. This leads to complacency, which does not change unless we are challenged due to market shifts or other external forces.

A selfless approach contributes to growth in career and skillsets as well as helps others grow. When we not only promote ourselves but the right person for the right job, we can be better team players. Our focus becomes what is right for the organization, not what is right for us. It helps both individuals and organizations when we are more flexible and ready for change.

The big question is: How can you create opportunities for change and create a selfless approach on your team? It may be difficult to ask your employees to be completely selfless. But as leaders, we can align our teams' and employees' growth to the organization's development. The following are a few ways to achieve this.

1. Help employees create a career

Invest in your teams. Set a career path for each team member. You may find employees who are happy working on the same things year after year. While I agree that it is essential to have expertise, this can easily lead to complacency and hoarding. I see these as significant concerns.

When you like what you do, you can excel at it. You should achieve consistent improvement in the knowledge and exposure you get. It helps if you have a forte in an area where you are a point person across the board. At the same time, it's essential to move forward while looking for new avenues to contribute. Working on open source software is an excellent way to make that happen.

In one of my earlier roles, I led an infrastructure services team. For a long time, this group focused on data center design, hardware, and network engineering. As cloud services started emerging, the team found itself in an identity crisis. The group had not added any new skill sets over the previous few years. The team's motivation scores were at an all-time low. Work became more limited as deployments shrunk to legacy applications.

It was imperative to invest in the team to help boost morale and connect with the company's vision. The team members needed to see how they added to the company's growth while gaining knowledge and new skills.

As we investigated our customers' pain points and their needs, we realized an open source strategy around cloud computing would be an ideal investment area. The team's experience made the transition challenging, but the members were ready for the change. The group swiftly jumped on the initiative and brought much success to themselves and the organization.

Carving out time for your team to work on open source software and contribute upstream is a great way to put your team members out there and help them gain different experiences while working with the broader community. It is imperative for leadership to move team members around to transition them to something new. It is also necessary to remind your team that every initiative, technology, or project follows a curve that starts with innovation, then shows heightened expectation, goes into a growth phase, and eventually declines.

This point is even more critical for managers and leaders. Sometimes I see leaders who are stuck in the status quo. A leader's attitude can impact a team's culture—negatively or positively.

2. Correlate the team's success with the organization's success

Leaders can motivate teams by showing appreciation to contributors. It is critical for teams to understand the impact their work has on customers and the world. It's also vital for them to correlate their role with the company's success. Every employee should know the value they bring to the table.

Understanding the financial value your team brings to the company is part of this. Share how the product or service your team provides contributes to revenue. This will show how your team how critical their product or service is for your customers and how it impacts the customer experience. This has really worked for me and the teams I lead.

3. Bring pride to what you do

Bringing pride to your work is a crucial element in developing ownership. If you take pride in what you do, you will enjoy it more. Employees who are proud of their work will be more eager to share and also look for ways to improve. As a manager or leader, it is your responsibility to bring visibility to your team's work. Appreciation for your team goes a long way, especially if you show your gratitude in front of the broader organization.

Open source community participation can provide opportunities to contribute to a greater good, give visibility to your work, challenge your thought process, and drive you to think out of the box. What suggestions do you have to helping teams overcome complacency and become more selfless? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 

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Shishir Kamboj 2019
As a technology leader, and Software development and Cloud services professional, I bring a record of success and expertise in driving objectives for some of the world’s leading cable & Telecommunications companies.

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