Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes

This is the third post on the theme, the five dysfunctions of a team.

The first two are available here:

With a natural or assigned Maverick on our team and a level of vulnerability and trust we reach the point where actual decisions can be made. Up until now we could consider the efforts to build the team to be the foundation, but now we have to put it in to practice.

This is also the point when it starts to hurt, this is where it really tests whether you truly have trust and are truly open to input and discussion and healthy conflict.  Many teams say they have built trust,  and many teams seem to have open discussion and healthy conflict, but this is where you test that.

Can you make a decision and follow through on it?

five-dysfunctions-pyramid

Consensus

Please do not confuse decision making with getting consensus. The goal of a team is not to please everyone on the team, it is to get things done, to make decisions that help us – for the team reach our team goals.  If we waste time trying to please everyone we end up either paralyzed, or with a watered down decision that accommodates everyone but satisfies no one.

“Consensus is horrible. I mean, if everyone really agrees on something and consensus comes about quickly and naturally, well that’s terrific. But that isn’t how it usually works, and so consensus becomes an attempt to please everyone.”

Patrick Lencioni

The funny thing is that most of us do not want consensus, nor do we always want to be agreed with.  Most of us are not unhappy when a decision is made just because we disagree with it, but we are very unhappy when our opinions and concerns are avoided; ignored; overlooked; or given only lip-service.

I want to feel valued

If I feel that my input is valued; listened to; if my concerns are discussed fairly and sensibly but the decision is made to proceed despite my concerns, then I can still buy in to that decision and crucially I can support it.

But if the decision gets made without me, or my input is so obviously not going to be given a fair hearing, then two things happen, first it won’t get my support, or my support will be shallow and half-hearted. Second, why would I speak up next time? We will just regress to a lack of healthy conflict.

It should be simple, if someone is on the team then their opinion counts, otherwise they should not be on the team.   If you cannot accept that, then perhaps you should not be on the team.  Being a part of a team has an implicit commitment to value each other.

Childrens-4

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes… but no plans.

Turn decisions in to plans

Getting to a decision is not enough, you need to turn those decisions in to plans and you need to turn those plans in to actions.

Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.

Failing to commit to a decision is as bad as not making a decision – possibly worse. We should be clear what the decision is, and who and how it will be implemented.

Failing to follow through on a decision renders all the time and effort spent discussing and debating the right choice, null and void, it becomes waste. A waste of time and energy and will undermine a team as surely as the inability to have the conversation.

Be decisive and be clear

Whenever possible any decisions should be associated with a specific action, a date for it to be completed and a clear understanding of who will do it.

If we make the extra effort to identify who will perform the action and when it creates a foundation for the best chance of success, there is a clear and measurable outcome. Everyone knows what to expect and when. This is crucial for being able to hold each other accountable.

Wishy washy action items, that are for everyone with no expected date will generally get ignored, but something specific combined with the certainty that you will be held accountable and it will be followed up will likely mean it gets done.

Pointless conversations

If you find you get to the end of a discussion with sufficient healthy debate and the result is to take no action on a frequent basis, then this is cause for pause.  Could you avoid wasted conversations by injecting a Go/No go break a few minutes in to a discussion and ask the team: “If we reach a decision are we empowered to act?” or “If we reach a decsion would we be willing to act?”  if your answer is No to either of these, then save yourself some time and heart-ache, if there can be no action then the conversation is moot.

That is not to say all conversations must result in action, but all conversations should have that potential or they are waste.

 

 

 

dysfunctions

If I had to recommend one book that would help your team become the best Agile Software Development team, it would be The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, the book does not even mention agility.  But in my opinion the vast majority of questions I’m asked or problems I see can be traced back to something covered in this book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Every team needs a maverick

Have you ever been on a team where the boss presents a new idea and looks around the team for a response and there is this one guy that breaks the silence by saying “What are you drinking boss? That idea is a bunch of crap” well maybe he was a little more polite but still the message was clear. Everyone else holds their breath waiting to see what happens.

Desire for harmony

For most people the desire to be liked and accepted leads us to have an overwhelming urge to conform with a leader (or the group majority) to maintain harmony, regardless of what we might think.  Sadly most people also have a very strong subconscious desire to be agreed with, especially leaders. When people agree it affirms their leadership and those that challenge are perceived as challenging them personally – rather than the idea itself.

perception

This all combines to create another horrible dysfunctional team, one where there is an absence of conflict. Well, apart from that one person stupid enough to speak their mind, and they’ll likely be fired soon, then we can all get back to agreeing with each other.
Now I am making light of it, but a leader that is able to understand conflict as healthy is rare, and one that can, in practice swallow pride and engage in healthy debate is rarer still.

The invisible threat

The problem though is that even with that rarest of leaders there is an invisible threat, the leader himself knows that he values conflict, that to be truly successful ideas need to be freely expressed and freely challenged, but everyone else can see the threat that is invisible to the leader, they know he still holds the power even if it is not overt, that invisible threat still causes teams to hold back and to create a false sense of harmony.

You may think that I am overstating the point but just think back over your career and how often does the yes-man or yes-woman get promoted over the more capable but outspoken. How many leaders surround themselves with people that will affirm their decisions rather than pushing for more. It is natural and normal to like those that agree with us far more than those that push us. But get over it! That behavior is limiting your team.

Solution

My solution to this problem is for every team to have an maverick, someone that is Not afraid, someone who will break the harmony spell and get the conversation started,  push ideas to be better, force plans to stand up to scrutiny, to trigger others into sharing their opinions. If you are lucky you have one already.  Turns out every team I’m on has one 🙂 but if your team doesn’t already have one (or more than one) then take turns, at the start of a meeting roll a dice, select one person to be devil’s advocate and it is their role to challenge ideas look for flaws or weaknesses, this will push the team to be better and can do so from the safety of an assigned role.

Devil’s Advocate:

The term a devil’s advocate describes someone who, takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with (or simply an alternative position), for the sake of debate or to explore the thought further through discussion.

Try playing Devil’s advocate:

  • If you sense that some of the team are not buying in to a proposal but are not speaking up, make a challenging statement
  • If it is your proposal, invite disagreement by questioning your own proposal, by saying maybe I am wrong, or I think I missed something
  • Be clear on your motives, you must genuinely want healthy debate. If you invite disagreement but brush it off then it can further encourage artificial harmony

There is a difference between healthy debate and someone that is just obtuse, and conflict alone will not get you to results. But an maverick that is also a genuine team player is invaluable on a team. I’m not talking about jackasses here, but people who are not afraid to speak their mind, for whom honesty is more important than acceptance.

 

dysfunctions

If I had to recommend one book that would help your team become the best Agile Software Development team, it would be The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, the book does not even mention agility.  But in my opinion the vast majority of questions I’m asked or problems I see can be traced back to something covered in this book.

 

Once trust has been established the next step is to build on that trust with healthy conflict where ideas can be shared without fear, where opinions are heard and considered.

 

Is it safe to dance?

Have you ever found yourself alone listening to music and you take a look around wondering if it is safe to dance?  Safe because your dancing is so bad it is unfit for other eyes, in fact it is so bad you are not sure you should look.  Perhaps your car is a little safer, it is a capsule of invulnerability, so when you are alone you can sing at the top of your voice and no one can see, or not until you stop at the lights and notice the person in the car next to you looking at you.

Feeling safe enough to be vulnerable is not easy even when you are alone, but it gets progressively harder when there are other people around. Now I’d never sing or dance in front of others, but the other day I found myself at lunch with four of my closest friends at work – if asked I would say I trusted the four of them a lot, I consider them really great friends, so I felt able to be a little bit vulnerable and I told a slightly inappropriate joke.This may not seem a big deal but I immediately became embarrassed I glowed red and went quiet for a while, I found vulnerability is tough even among such good friends.

Vulnerability is tough even among close friends

We all want to be liked and accepted, to be included in a group, and so it can be hard to be vulnerable, and yet the irony is that taking the step to show vulnerability may well be the step needed to make those friendships and your team stronger.

maxresdefault

Trust in a team

In a team environment it is so important that you can feel enough trust with ALL of your team mates that you can truly feel able to say things like:

  • I need help
  • I don’t understand
  • I disagree
  • I made a mistake
  • I find those tasks difficult
  • Show me how to do that again
  • I feel uncomfortable when you do that
  • I wanted to do the task you took
  • I am unhappy with this decision

But if I struggle to trust even my best friends, how can I possibly trust co-workers that I know much less, after all the same rules apply. I want to be liked and accepted, I definitely don’t want to look stupid or uncooperative, I don’t want to discourage others or waste time, I have a burning need to feel valued and part of the team. I need to show my worth to my boss, etc.

Is it safe to dance?

Essentially when you are part of a team you are asking yourself “is it safe to dance?”
If you keep that in mind it gets easier, what would make it safe to dance for you. For me it would take a lot!

I’d need others to dance first, probably all the others, but certainly the leaders, the people the others respect. I’d need to see that some were as bad as me, I’d need to see that no one was laughing at them (only laughing with them) and that everyone was encouraging and supportive, then and only then might I feel able to be vulnerable and join in, and frankly it would take a few repeats before I would truly feel comfortable.

We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine…

dance

 

How does that relate to work?

You may think that dancing is not like working in a team and that the humiliation of dancing is far worse that simply doing your day job, but I think this is one of the reasons teams suffer from an absence of trust so often.  We dismiss both the importance and underestimate the difficulty of building trust in a team.

In a team environment you are sharing your ideas which are deeply personal, your knowledge and judgment which may be closely associated with your sense of self. Doing something wrong could affect your job, maybe even your career. Sure you may not look and feel like a buffoon but the stakes are much higher. And even if you get past the work related barriers you still have to contend with our inherent desire to be socially accepted, to be liked and valued.

So how do you build trust on a team?

Actually this is not that complicated it is not really any different to building friendships.

  • Spend time to get to know each other, take a few minutes during meetings to get to know each other, this is not waste, a few minutes spent building relationships could well be the most productive aspect of the meeting in the long term.
  • Chat over coffee and as you work – about personal stuff
  • Have lunch together as a team – this works best if the whole team is together.
  • Play games! One of the best ways to build relationships is to play a game something simple like a card game is great, it is inclusive and leveling, the most junior member of a team can challenge the most senior in the safe confines of the rules of a game this makes it much easier to discuss work ideas on a level playing field later.
  • Time, trust and relationships take time, do not underestimate it.

For all of these it works best if everyone is there to avoid creating pockets of trust which could undermine the team later.

trust-stones_480-300x200

The last one was time, and warrants an extra note. Building relationships is a slow process you can’t simply flick a switch, allow teams the time and space to grow the relationships will build and grow stronger and stronger, and once the team is stable changes can be made so long as a core remains to keep the identity and trust that has formed.

Trust takes time

dysfunctions

If I had to recommend one book that would help your team become the best Agile Software Development team, it would be The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, the book does not even mention agility.  But in my opinion the vast majority of questions I’m asked or problems I see can be traced back to something covered in this book.

You cannot uncover better ways to deliver software without first uncovering better ways to work as a team. And the basis for an effective team is Trust.

Building trust should be your top priority, spend the time, make the time, it is an investment in the future of the team. Without trust anything else you do will suffer.

Without trust anything else you do will suffer.

Take the time to build trust on your team, make it safe to dance.