One of the famous studies on peer pressure was the Stanford prison experiment, conducted by a team of researchers led by then Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo.
Essentially, a group of average people were selected to play either a prisoner or prisoner guard. As the participant became engrossed in the role, the peer pressure from other participants quickly degraded their moral compass. The small negative actions lead the groups to quickly fall into patterns of behavior which were unlike their own.
I see peer pressure work in the same manner for good all the time. Since software is written by teams, the software is often a reflection of how well the team works together more so than individual skills of the developers. When you have a group of developers who entice each other to do good work, the outcome can be great work.
Creating a culture of positive peer pressure is about doing lots of little things. Small positive actions will lead the team to create positive patterns of behavior.
Here is a list of different techniques which have worked for different teams I have been a member of:
- Name your team, not just your project. This gives me as a developer some self-identity as part of a team.
- Greet your team mates each day. We shake hands to show respect each day for each team member. This can alleviate tense situations by itself, as personal contact often does. No chance to avoid a team member.
- Do some activity everyone enjoys. Anything from eating lunch together to playing a competitive game as a team. We have played basketball together. Being competitive with my team gives me pride in the team, win or loose. Get to know your team members.
- We keep a good supply of coffee, tea, snacks, and gum for each other as gifts. This act of giving to the team promotes the selflessness any team needs from its members top succeed. There are different levels of skill on a team, but each team member is important. It is difficult to write software for any project of magnitude without the full contribution of each member of the team.
- Switch pairs pairs often. When you work with everyone on the team, you feel closer to everyone on the team.
- Talk while you pair. Reading someone’s mind takes more effort than talking. Talking aloud also is a great way of brainstorming. Pair communication starts when words become sound waves.
These small things can improve the accountability and creativity to make a well functioning team. A happier team will become a creative and productive team.
A team that has a strong sense of togetherness will lift each other up when needed. I find myself more willing to step up to daily challenges with the support of the team on my side. There is no place for apathy and complacency in a team which has pressure to succeed.
When the team succeeds, as positive teams often do, it becomes a group success and brings the entire team great pride. A team which pressures each other to do better can turn an average developer into a great developer.