The Black Team - A Parable of Group Effectiveness

by JGWeissman1 min read22nd Apr 201121 comments


CareersProgrammingGroup RationalityIdentityTeamwork

Management noticed that certain software testers were 10 to 20 percent better at finding defects than their peers. By putting these people on the same team, they reasoned, they could form a group that would be 10 or 20 percent more effective and then put the team to work testing the most critical system components.

It didn't turn out that way.

The individuals who made up the team were not exceptionally intelligent or talented, but they all enjoyed testing software and were better than average at it. When these like minded individuals were assembled, they they spent their working hours, lunches and sometimes free time collaborating on how to better find software defects.

Soon the members of team were twice and then dozens of times more effective than their peers, and they began to view their jobs not as testing software, but as breaking software. Team members took a well-deserved pride in their abilities and began to cultivate an image of villainous destroyers. As a group, they began coming to work dressed in black and took to calling themselves "The Black Team."

From The Black Team. (Hat tip to Adam "ata" Atlas and Mike Blume.)

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You should emphasise that this is "a story about things gone terribly right."

(Or "fantastrophe" for short.)

Obvious next question: should LW have a black team dedicated to exposing locally popular bad reasoning? In my opinion, criticism is too important to be left to the critics.

I think that until we produce a critical mass of full time professional confessors, exposing bad reasoning should be everybody's responsibility and nobody's privilege.

(By "everybody's responsibility", I mean that if you, yes you reading this right now, notice bad reasoning you should expose it, not that you should expect someone else to do it because it is their responsibility too.)

(By "nobody's privilege", I mean that if you are exposing bad reasoning, you have to actually make the case that it is bad reasoning rather than wrapping yourself in the mantle of "exposing locally popular bad reasoning" as members of a dedicated group might feel compelled to do, and be willing to consider counter arguments that it is actually good reasoning after all.)

Criticism by a Black Team would probably feel less personal, and would involve less worry on the part of Black Team members that their criticism would be held against them.

This is an interesting story illustrating the influence of a group’s culture and dynamic onto willing participants. Each member of the group shared a certain value and talent, and when brought together, they went into a positive feedback loop, and ended up optimizing their search for software defects.

The theatrics is a pretty time as well.

On the other hand, I imagine it would be difficult to replicate. In my experience, groups like these start off with two or three ‘heroes’, who take the charge down the road less traveled.

Has anyone had a group which parallels the black team above?

[+][anonymous]10y -5