Social Engineering

Immo Landwerth

When people in our industry use the term “social engineering” they are usually referring to security attacks. Politicians and lobbyists would mean something entirely different too. But that’s not what I will talk about here. Instead, I’ll talk about the kind of social life we’ve around in our team.

Why am I using the term engineering then? Because I strongly believe that building a great team is a conscious effort. Wikipedia defines the term engineering as follows:

Engineering is the application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design, build, and maintain structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes.

From my point of view, building great software is a lot easier if you have a great team. You obviously can’t build a great team by writing a spec and triaging bugs. But you nonetheless need to invest into it as it doesn’t come for free or even happen automatically.

In this post, I’d like to show some of the big and small things that my team does and what makes working with this team so great – even when being under stress.

Official: Morale Events

About twice a year each team at Microsoft has a morale event. It’s up to the team to decide what to do but it typically involves some kind of team sport and food. Usually, these events are paid for by Microsoft. But before you think Formula 1 and Champaign with caviar: like in almost every company budget for those type of things is limited. However, I don’t think a successful morale event needs a lot of money. All it needs is a point in time and a place to gather.

About a month ago, our team went out to play kickball and have a BBQ in a public park. In case you wonder whether we had fun: you can judge by browsing the pictures below.

(Click picture or this link to see more pictures)

Semi Official: Get Together

It would miss the point if I’d state that it’s only the employer’s responsibility to invest into team building. In fact, I’m not even sure building a team like that is possible. From personal experience I’d say that in all the teams I’ve worked in the ones with the best culture had one thing in common: most of the team building was driven by individual team members.

In our team, we usually hang out during lunch time instead of using this time of the day to be productive in front of the computer. However, I don’t mean to say you absolutely have to have a team lunch. But in my experience talking to your coworkers in an unofficial environment, such as the company’s cafeteria or a sushi place, is super helpful. For one, you have a venue to talk about personal stuff, such as renovating your living room or the tough nights you had because your daughter is getting teeth. And secondly, chances are you talk about work stuff as well. I found that people are more open to make compromises when they talk about the issue in a relaxing environment. Also, I’ve found on more than one occasion we developed a brilliant idea during lunch.

Joel takes this one step further and has lunch delivered to his employees so that they can all sit together as one big family.

In addition to that, we meet every Friday after work in a social area in our building. Each week, someone else is responsible for getting the beer, chips and cake. Yes, there will be cake.

Unofficial: Office Pranks

At Microsoft, we have a long tradition of office pranks. They range from smaller jokes like removing the computer equipment to more elaborate pranks like replacing the door with a fully painted dry-wall. Needless to say they are unofficial and not driven by Microsoft, but completely organized by individual team members.

When I went on a conference trip to Germany a few weeks ago, my team pulled off a super awesome office prank. Since I’m a big Star Trek fan they got inspired by this episode and flooded my office with tribbles. Great pictures and epic making-of mails can be found below.

(Click picture or this link to see more pictures)

Special thanks to our release PM Marc Goodner who organized and PM’ed this epic prank!


In case you didn’t notice, I wrote this post primarily to say Thanks to my team. We talk a lot about the software we ship but cool stuff deserves to be shared – even it’s not shipping and especially when it involves people.

In case you thought “I wish I could be part of such a team” I’ve good news for you. We are hiring!

As always, we love to hear what you have to say. What do you do to keep up the team spirit? Share your story in the comments!


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