The power of working in pairs

Written by Sean Drury

Working in pairs

In the fast-moving world of new technologies, the landscape moves very quickly and is dictated by the big players in the industry. When Apple declared in 2010 that the iPhone would not support Flash, there was outrage - it used to be the way to create interactive web pages. But the start of 2021 marked the end of Flash, which was finally laid to rest on New Year’s Day.

The lesson to take from this is that we need to stay ahead of the game and never stop learning, and if we can learn faster than our competitors, that gives us an advantage over them. We also need to make sure that everyone at Cursor is learning from each other, so the knowledge we already have is consolidated.

The key to this is working in pairs: two people working on the same project with open communication. Ideally two people would be sat at the same desk, but due to Covid-19, that’s not currently possible. Fortunately, screen sharing - and knowledge sharing - is still possible while working remotely.

So, why work in pairs?

Solve difficult problems

Two senior developers may be able to work through a difficult problem together in a way that one working alone could not. It’s easy for one person to become quickly frustrated, but two differing perspectives can lead to the correct answer.

Working in pairs has helped us to tackle some tough problems, including a difficult API integration, and trying to understand some frustrating performance issues. It has also helped with testing, which is more arduous than it is difficult. Two people can motivate each other to work through long-winded tasks and make sure nothing gets missed.

Share knowledge

Perhaps the biggest advantage of working in pairs is sharing knowledge, whether it be two people learning the same thing together, or a senior member of the team sharing their expertise with a junior member of staff. Learning together on real projects means people can expand their knowledge while making measurable progress on actual jobs.

We’ve always done this at Cursor, but even more so since the switch to remote working. Our senior developers and designers can sit down with a less experienced member of the team and show them how to do new things with real examples, then ask them to repeat it. We learn best through doing.

Reduce business risk

Working in pairs doesn’t just mean that work gets done faster, it also reduces business risk. Sharing knowledge helps to prevent ‘towers of knowledge’, which is what happens when only one person knows how to do a particular thing.

If that person goes off sick, or even worse, leaves the company, there will be nobody else to pick up the slack, creating a business risk. This could become quite a vicious cycle if that person becomes frustrated at being lumped with the same tasks over and over again, making them more likely to leave the business, and increasing the business risk.

On the other hand, if people are allowed to work in pairs and share their knowledge, it relieves the pressure on them and the business by creating a more flexible and knowledgeable workforce. Over time, others become experts on the subject and are able to pass their new-found knowledge onto the next person.

Menlo Innovations talk about working in pairs

Nobody does working in pairs quite like Menlo Innovations. A multi-million dollar software company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Menlo, their entire ethos as a company is based on collaboration. They do this by working in pairs on everything, starting from the very first job interview.

Every week, on Monday, they switch to work with a new partner, sharing one mouse or one pencil so that each person is focused on what the other is doing. They live by the mantra “Make your partner look good”, so individuals are incentivised to share their knowledge in an engaging and intuitive way.

A pair of Menlonians will be joining Digital Lincoln later this month to share their insights into working in pairs, removing fear from the workplace and the power of a positive workplace culture. This is sure to be a fascinating talk and one from which anyone in any industry will benefit.

The talk will be taking place at 7pm on Tuesday 26th January as an online webinar, and all are welcome. You can RSVP to the event here.