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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.