Archive for November, 2006

Happy teamWhen I was in fifth grade, our math teacher introduced us to tessellations. Here’s the brief rundown:

A tessellation is a repeated pattern of 1 closed shape, arrayed one after the next, with no gaps or overlaps. At their simplist, a grid of squares or a pattern of hexagon tiles on a bathroom floor are tessellations.

We were taught that if you start with a tessellating shape (like a square) and remove a section of it from one edge but add that same section to another edge, the shape will still tessellate. (This preserves the surface area of the shape. See diagrams below for examples.) We cut these tiles out of construction paper and glued 4×4 squares of them of them to a black background, learning from the 20-some examples in our class that this process always works.

Recently, this memory has been tapping me on the shoulder and it’s taken me a few days to figure out why. In constructing a project team, I’ve been conscious of allowing space for conflicting personalities and filling skills gaps. But the team members need go grow together: for the team to successfully accomplish its goals, each member should be adaptable, ready to interact with any of the other members at any time. They need to allow for personality differences and varieties of skills across the group. Tessellations make an interesting metaphor for this adaptation. (Each shape represents one person)

Tessellating squares
A group of colleagues working in the same space, but on different projects. (Can you see the outlines of cubicles forming?)

Rough edged team
A close team, as you might find in a small company. Each team member is adapting for the others, compensating for gaps and allowing for preferences. This team doesn’t necessarily work much with other teams, so it’s allowed to have “rough edges”.

smooth edged team
A close team within a larger company of other teams. Each team then has to tessellate with the other teams. Smooth outside edges make this easier (on the assumption that the other teams will also have smooth outside edges, to collaborate with whomever they need).

These are ideals for a team, and generally take quite a while to build. In my experience, when you initially bring a team together, it looks something like this:

New team
A newly-formed team

The “team-building process” is one of learning to identify the shape of your colleagues and adapt yours to accommodate them (and vice versa). With a bit of work, you can end up a bit more like this:

Adapting team
The newly-formed team is adapting.

This is a model (and I admit I like the uniformity of a tessellation) and I’ll acknowledge its limitations. For the sake of argument, we should note that each team member doesn’t generally tessellate to the roles of their counterparts in the team. (Because each person brings differing experiences and personalities to the situation, they may each end up with a shape of their own, as opposed to being one repeating uniform shape labelled “team member”.) But there is one benefit to approaching the metaphor with the concept of uniformity:

When you remove one team member and replace them with someone outside, the clearer that tessellating shape is (ie., what it means to be a member of this team), the easier it will be for that new person to adapt.

Take these two teams as examples. The first is tessellating, each member has adopted a uniform method of interacting and set of expectations for their team members. (Therefore each has the same shape.) Along comes the new person, who can learn from any of the original members how to fit in and what is expected of them.

Coherent team with newbie
A well-organised team with clear ways of working together and expectations for each other. While the new person, in black, will have to adapt to fit into the team, they should have a fairly easy time of it due to the clarity in the existing team.

In contrast, this picture below shows a chaotic team with no coherence. The new person has no idea how the members are working together, let alone how to join them. The best he/she can do is to pick an outside edge (anybody’s!) and start there, try to connect with everyone in due course and build up a shape of their own to fit the odd structure already there. If you’re the new person, it’s a much less fun scenario.

Crazy team with newbie
A team with no coherence or organisation, attempting to incorporate a new person. This scenario is hard for the newcomer, as the team’s ways of working are unclear and even communication between the existing members doesn’t appear to be guaranteed. How should the newcomer adapt themselves?

These visual images provide a model for the ways team members work together. Though I’ve found that the shape of each tessellation changes from team to team (and even changes when a new person joins a team), it’s important to have a fundamental model. Every team member I’ve worked with has indicated that they are happier and more productive when they see the whole of which they are a part. Understanding the shape (or role) they are to take is a big step towards seeing the bigger picture — the entire team, the company, or even the entire industry.

Happy team


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Blog holiday

Closed sign

Work on this blog has been temporarily halted due to my holiday. Please feel free to browse and do leave comments, requests, concerns and suggestions. I will be happy to respond to them when we re-open on the 22nd of November. Thank you for your custom.

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I didn’t intend for this blog to be quite so adult in its themes, but this was just too funny to pass up. (And I swear, I found it legimitately, searching for social networking resources!)

The porn community, one of the largest online group of content sharers and *ahem* common-interest enthusiasts, have taken up the banner of social bookmarking.

PornCabi.net (yeah, don’t open this at work) describes itself as “a lot like del.icio.us, but it’s strictly for adults, which means if you want an endless stream of constantly updated free porn sites all in one place, sorted by popularity among other users, this is absolutely the best place to be!” Just like del.icio.us, when you find a site that intrigues you, you bookmark it to PornCabi.net, tagging it with the keywords you find relevant. The more tags a site gets, the higher up it goes in the rankings, so that when another user searches for that particular word they’re likely to find what they’re looking for. (Probably more so than through Google, which can be manipulated by creating lots of extraneous links to a site and embedding keywords in it that boost its PageRanking.)

To make this a truly effective knowledge-sharing method, it seems that they even allow their users to form organised subnetworks around a particular topic or shared interest. This is particularly important because I’d bet that one man’s great porn isn’t necessarily also another man’s (or woman’s, to be fair), which means that the popularity rankings are only so useful across the entire population.

Kudos to them for the creative URL. And it’s almost a pity that they couldn’t take “del.icio.us”!

Many thanks to Julie for playing research assistant and filling in some of the details.

[This post deliberately has no pictures. Images of bookmarks were too innocent, and everything else… Well, it’s out there already and far more graphic than I’m willing to post in my blog!]

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Amazon ratingsAs one of the original commercial community websites, Amazon has launched the user-referral concept into a common-place online shopping practice. We expect the right to ask people who have bought the book what they thought, and we often want a forum in which to share our own reactions. Amazon has taken that a step further, incorporating further knowledge in the form of comments from the author (among other features) to help convey their intentions to potential buyers.

With all those good intentioned, knowledge-sharing and community models in mind… Have a look at Amazon.co.uk’s review of the Holy Bible. (Note: this is a classic example of one of the most useful English expressions: taking the piss.)

Don’t miss the comments from the author. 🙂

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These are from the Yahoo! Time Capsule, a fascinating bit of collaborative art. The capsule is accepting contributions from any and all from the 10th of October to the 8th of November. This electronic anthropology project will be preserved by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington D.C.

These are a couple of tiles that caught my attention: they’re intriguing. I’m impressed at how much contributors have been willing to share of themselves. (To see them in their original layout, click on the picture or the text. Or go check out the site — The swirling ball motif that organises all the entries is quite impressive.)

Determination pic

d text


Honesty pic

Honesty text

Another pic

Another text

je t’aime pic

je t’aime text

The Yahoo! Time Capsule is the brainchild of internet artist Jonathan Harris, who has also produced (in collaboration with Sepandar Kamvar) the endlessly fascinating We Feel Fine project, which graphically displays sentences that include “I feel…” from blogs all over the web. It uses a data engine to search all the usual blog sites (including LiveJournal, MSN Spaces, MySpace, Blogger, Flickr, Technorati, Feedster, Ice Rocket, and Google) for the text strings “I feel” and “I am feeling”, then maps them against a list of 500 emotions and assigns a colour to each. They become a universe of bouncing coloured balls; as a user you dynamically ‘generate’ the whole scape and then investigate whatever area (or colored ball) you’re interested in. It’s amazing to see what people are writing about.

Many thanks to Julie for introducing me to the Yahoo! Time Capsule.

We feel fine logo Yahoo! Time Capsule logo

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