tech teams vs. the 2nd law of thermodynamics

As an engineering student, we were all required to take the class Thermodynamics. By itself, this is a tough subject matter, but the professor we all had was a cross between a  fire and brimstone style preacher, and a drill sergeant. While he made the course fairly entertaining, it was even more intense than just the subject matter by itself.

Entropy - A GraphSiting here over 20 years later (how can that be?!) I’m amazed that I still remember that class. Thanks to the drill sergeant/preacher man for making it a class to remember. I could almost guarantee that if I were to ask some of my old classmates, that they would remember this professor also.

You might be wondering what my thermodynamics class has to do with production in the local church. Besides the fact they they make up the fundamental laws that our entire existence is based on, there is a point.

I had the privilege of serving on a team at a local church recently. The team was made up of some pretty long term volunteers. When I asked one team member how long they’d been serving, he said “Only 8 years.” I think I laughed out loud! ONLY 8 years! Where’s your dedication?! (sarcasm)

As I got to know the other team members, they had all been serving for quite a while also. They knew how to do the task at hand and what was expected of them. They knew the rhythm of the services and how to do their collective assignment well. Being the new person, I’m know that I would not have succeeded without them.

One interesting note was that they have been without a consistent leader for quite a while. As good as these volunteers were, their lack of a leader showed. As someone from the outside looking in, I immediately thought of the 2nd law of Thermodynamics. (wouldn’t you?)

A closed system will tend from order to disorder.

(Now if you’re a purist student of physics, you know that this language hasn’t been used in a while, but for those of us non-physists, I think it still works…especially for the sake of this blog post.)

This idea is called entropy. It basically states that if left to itself, the energy contained in a system will reach a state of equilibrium. If it is moving it will eventually stop. If it is hot, it will eventually cool off. If something goes up, it will eventually come down. Without some new form of energy introduced from outside the system, things will eventually come to a stop.

This is why leadership is so important to a team. Without leadership, without energy being introduced, things will tend to disorder. Without leadership, each member of the team will do what they think is best, and only expend the amount of energy they think is necessary. Leadership acts as the outside force to keep the system moving. Like rocket fuel that keeps a rocket from succumbing to the effects of gravity, leadership provides the necessary force to allow a team to function at a high level.

This is one of the difficult parts of leadership. Without constant attention and continual injections of new energy, a team will slowly become less than diligent, to think something is “good enough”. Or worse it might slowly dissolve.

As tech people, it can sometimes be difficult to wear the leadership hat. But in reality, if you are responsible for a team of technical artists, it is your burden to carry. If you won’t take the time to invest your energy to build the team or build into the team or hold the team to a high standard, then no one will.

In order for a leader to have the energy required to move a team along, he/she needs to be getting that energy from somewhere. It doesn’t just happen by itself.

As a leader, how are you keeping yourself going?

As a leader, what outside forces are you letting push you forward?

Without having good answers to these questions, it becomes almost impossible to expect our teams to be thriving.

Going back to the team I served with recently, I’m excited to visit them after they have an established leader again. It will be fun to see how consistent energy turns them into a high functioning team again.

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