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Monday, February 28, 2011

Software for Your Head 3

The project team kickoff meeting from Software for Your Head by Jim & Michele McCarthy continues.

(from page 7):

The problem with this team is that not one damned person on it is speaking the truth. They don’t really lie, not much; they just focus on the smaller stuff, because the bigger stuff is too scary. So they don’t tell the truth. Not all of it, anyway. Hell, not even the pieces of it they have.

So now what? You lean back and think. Well, your first impulse—to get them going on a shared vision—was wrong. And the second impulse to get someone to say something about the Case of the Missing Vision, or even better, get someone to do something about it, this impulse is also wrong. After all, these people are smart: They know they lack a compelling vision. They don’t need that tidbit from an advisor, or even from one of their own. Who really wants more meetings and retreats in which people don’t speak the truth, even if the topic is vision? More going through the motions won’t help.

Then what? What would be most helpful? You reason, the most helpful thing you could do would be to encourage someone—just one—to examine his1 own personal failure to speak the truth at this meeting.

Now you’ve got your guidance. Anyone smart enough to ask for it gets it. It would be simple but difficult at the same time. You would tell him that he should think, feel, and engage more deeply, and really participate as if it mattered, as if he cared, as if his time counted. You would advise him to examine what he believes in right now, what’s happening in his own heart and mind, and to honestly assess his engagement with his work, values, and team. And then, he would want to seriously question his evident willingness to tolerate— hell, endorse—wrong action. Does he act on his beliefs? Or does he just like to believe in them?

That sounds about right. You wonder what impact this question might have had on teams where you and your teammates expended large amounts of effort for only mediocre results. If just one person on this team who believed in something that the team was neglecting, something important (like, say, the necessity of a team having a shared vision)—if just one person who knew he was doing the wrong thing and yet let himself go on doing it; if he would just answer this question: Why is he willing to accept less than the best possible results, even though he is the one investing his time and effort in this project?

If he answered that and also really saw how this self-betrayal wasted his time, then he couldn’t say he was “too busy at work” to the family anymore. He’d just have to say he was “too wasteful” or “too cowardly” the next time his little girl wanted him to play pretend with her on a Saturday. If he answered that, you figure he’d probably nearly soften up enough to actually engage with the others.

But wait. That’s not the important thing, the talking with others. That’s a trap, a diversion, like fighting for quality instead of creating it. It’s what he does about it, not just what he says about it. They have to balance; what he says has to mostly be like how he acts. But, geez, if he just shared his true thoughts and feelings with the rest of them without preaching or dictating; if he could just tell them what he actually believes about the vision problem, say, and could describe how he hasn’t consistently acted on his beliefs in a way that makes any difference, then he could tell them what he is going to do. He could say, “I’m not ever going forward with another project on a team without a genuine shared vision.” Or, even better, he could say, “I’m going to work on this vision, starting at x time and place, and I’m going to keep working, with whoever wants to work on it with me until I clearly know where we’re taking this product. Will you help?”

Thoughts? Comments? More soon.

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