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December 2, 2006

High-temperature teams

Filed under: It's just business — dionea @ 9:40 pm

You’d think that as ancient an art as glassblowing would have an authoritative, hierarchical structure. You’d be wrong.

My neighbor’s explanation of how the team functions was fascinating, and full of lessons. These folk are sticking metal pipes in a 2000°F blast furnace and manipulating large blobs of molten glass. Gloves are not allowed, as they’d burst into flames before they could be pulled off in time. The only protection is feel, just how far down the pipe you can touch, and wooden paddles that are used as heat shields. A typical team consists of the gaffer and several assistants, and any wrong move can be disastrous. Imagine what damage you might do spinning a rod of molten glass around to the right when your team mates expected you to turn left.

The gaffer is the person in charge of making the piece, and the position of gaffer rotates throughout the team from piece to piece. The gaffer is also in charge of the team, and is fully responsible for anything and everything that happens. Did you, an inexperienced assistant, open the furnace door to soon shattering every piece inside? My fault, I told you to open it, but I wasn’t precisely clear as to when. Did you rotate the wrong way? My fault, I’m responsible.

Of course solid and clear communication is crucial. Add to that a clear sense of 100% responsibility, and responsibility that rotates. How refreshing!

Then, when they’re done for the day, the team sits down and eats a meal together.

Contrast this to the story in Joel Spolsky’s blog
How many Microsofties does it take to implement the Off menu?
Results will be hideous, stupid, or disastrous when no one bears responsibility.

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