I am constantly pulled toward this idea, an idea I’m beginning to think of as delusional, that you can pivot the cultural direction of a company without that company first hitting rock bottom – or their version of it. I think if you are a CEO this doesn’t apply – but I’m not. Companies who do not naturally follow a particular trajectory also don’t respond very favorably to changing direction toward that trajectory. The existing direction is there for a reason, because the majority of the company, for whatever reason, has made decisions large and small which pointed the ship that way. Changing that direction requires changing hearts and minds (or staff) toward some new horizon.
On the other side of the coin – I’ve worked for companies where stuff worked pretty OK. I’ve participated in what I thought was a reasonably good version of a high functioning team. I left that company because I got bored, or just didn’t feel like the company itself was giving me the opportunity to do what I wanted. What I wanted was to grow a team into that high functioning place.
So I found myself recently being frustrated that my attempts to change a team aren’t meeting my expectations. Unlike me from a number of years ago I’ve become a bit more introspective about things and so I started asking myself some questions:
- What is your basis for expecting people to agree with you and change in the way you think they should within some window of time? Is there evidence supporting this expectation?
- Would the job be interesting if they all turned on a dime and started doing the right thing naturally tomorrow? No more problems to solve?
- Assuming they too want to succeed and do their best, what pressures are preventing them from changing?
- Are you being an asshole about it?
Item #1 is that I have expectations that have been established on assumptions not in evidence. This is much the same as being frustrated that when you let go of a bowling ball it falls to the ground – but you expected it to go up. Have you ever observed an object fall up? Why would you expect it? Wanting it, thinking it’s so obvious that it should, does not change physics. Few folks get all bent out of shape when it rains, you can’t control it, you accept it. So too are other people – cannot be controlled, have to be understood and accepted, no real value in getting frustrated.
Teams do change, and there are many stories of teams changing. What is often missing from those stories is some perspective on the effort, time, and patience required to get to that end. This is usually measured in years unless there’s dramatic (and usually very disruptive) action. So, patience.
Item #2 is why I’m here in the first place, this is what I want. I could go work for some company that already has their shit together but what fun is that? Nope, I need to learn how to find joy in this journey and how to become successful at it because this is what drives me. I need only look at my selection of books in amazon for evidence of where my interests lean. Improving my ability to do this means being in an environment where things aren’t right & practicing. When you want to improve your code you find a problem to solve – same goes here.
Again, patience. Whether I like to believe it or not, I’m changing & learning as much as the rest of the team. By adjusting my behavior, others adjust theirs – we learn and adapt to each other, we build rapport. As this happens it unlocks new opportunities and makes possible things that weren’t before.
Item #3 is my fundamental belief that all people want to do good. With few exceptions, people are driven by the same desires I am – to do well & succeed at their goals. When we observe people who aren’t doing what we expect them to do, we have to ask why. Sometimes they don’t even know why, so we have to allow them to show us why. Sometimes what we expect isn’t correct – so we have to be willing to learn.
This is also a core tenant of how I believe this process can work. There’s another blog post brewing about building a “pit of success” – about making the right thing the easiest thing. Doing this requires setting aside your belief about what works & observing and learning from behavior of others. It requires lettings things go wrong & then asking how it can be improved.
Item #4 is my reality check. I can absolutely get passionate, maybe even dogmatic, about how I think things should happen. Given enough resistance I can turn into a righteous asshole. Do you listen to people like that? I don’t. I’m not doing anyone any favors if I’m not listening, learning, and asking how I can help people do well.
I have to sit down with people and ask how I’m doing. I have to check in and make sure I’m not destroying relationships. It shouldn’t be necessary to create adversaries in this process – if we are listening & learning we should be finding common ground. This takes effort, but it’s worth it.
All of this gave me some perspective to look back over the last 6-8 months and what progress has been made. Actually, there’s been a lot. There are definitely some problems, but there’s now evidence that the play dough actually does move – it’s not rigid. The process might not be as fast or as direct as I expect, and it might not even look like what I expect when we get there – but there is movement. I need to realize that it is this movement & the positive results of it that are my journey and when we reach our destination, so too does my journey end and I go looking for another tribe to walk with.
No sense in rushing to that point.