Living out Loud. Or “Why Teams Fail”.
By Joshua W. Frappier
At my company, I have had the privilege of serving countless software development teams, helping them build their best stuff. This has come primarily in the form of developing tools that help them to communicate. It has also come in the form of consulting directly with teams. These roles have put me in a position to see which teams do well and which teams fail.
Often, we get customers who are looking to our product as a tool to help solve their communication problems. I am proud to say that it can! But sometimes, teams fail even though they use good tools. Maybe you have the perfectly curated software development stack, the best developers, the end-all-be-all of project management methodologies. But something lacks.
Why is this?
Communication and transparency sound easy. But they’re not. They’re hard. They are learned. They are practiced. They don’t come naturally.
And there is a reason why it doesn’t come naturally — it’s because of a human trait called pride. We all have it to a degree, but left unchecked, pride will hurt teams, and put projects in peril. But there’s a way to diminish the effects of pride.
Ask Out Loud
You are prideful. I know you are. I know because you’re human. We are all prideful sometimes. Each of us seeks to maximize the way that others perceive us. We generally want to be seen as knowledgeable, skilled, and ultimately valuable. Putting our pride aside generally places this at risk.
We see this play out in teams all the time. For example, not asking the question at a meeting for fear of looking stupid. Or not inviting discussion for fear of hearing dissenting viewpoints. How much more efficient would our teams be if we simply put aside our pride, and asked out loud?
Remind yourself to “ask out loud”. Put your pride on the line. Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe someone else has an answer — a better answer.
Answer Out Loud
Your pride makes you judgmental. I know you are. I know because you’re human. We are all judgmental. Sometimes it’s motivated out of fear to protect what’s ours. Other times it’s motivated by our biases. No matter the reason, judging someone makes you difficult to approach.
I have seen the judgmental attitude from teams. Someone judges him for what is perceived is his lack of knowledge in an area that should be his expertise. She is judged because she can’t seemingly understand something so simple. You are judged because you can’t articulate an idea quite so well.
Do you see what’s happening here? A judgmental attitude is a systemic problem behind failed teams that stems from pride. And pride feeds the very reason why people don’t ask out loud: The fear of damaging their pride.
Start answering out loud in good faith. Answering out loud does not mean making a public spectacle. It means providing the answer for the benefit of the person asking, and for the knowledge it imparts to others. Answering out loud in this way gives permission to ask out loud, and breaks the cycle of pride that pervades many teams.
Work Out Loud
You need accountability. I know you do. I know because you’re human, and we humans think we work better alone. It’s not true. We work better as a team. That’s why you’re on one, right?
It’s not enough to be on a team, though. That does not imply accountability. Accountability by its nature goes beyond an attitude of “just ask” or “I’ll show you when I’m ready” because accountability is proactive and persistent. It grants permission to ask questions. It invites discussion. It covets feedback and opinion from team members. Not some of the time, or when it’s convenient for the sake of your pride — but all the time.
Our tendency is to abstain from accountability among our peers. That human trait called pride says, “I don’t answer to anyone.” Wrong. You answer to your team, and they answer to you. The way to do that is to work out loud.
Live Out Loud
There is a little line of scripture that says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” In other words, people and teams fail because unchecked pride strokes the self serving ego. The way to keep it in check is to live out loud by adopting intentional, and honest transparency on your team. Sharing knowledge without judgment. Asking questions without fear.
My hope is that your team will succeed as it identifies and addresses pride head on through living out loud. You can start by raising up the culture of asking out loud, answering out loud, and working out loud today. It’s not too late. Teams that teach, practice, and uphold these standards as part of their team culture will benefit from improved communication that leads to project success.
Joshua W. Frappier is the Founder of Unfuddle, a bug and tracking issue software.