For agile teams to be really successful, like amazingly successful, I think all of the team members need to always be willing to take responsibility. It’s this concept of “the buck stops here.” It’s the mentality that, when you observe something that needs done, or needs corrected, you make sure it happens. You flag the problem, bring it to somebody’s attention and make sure it’s addressed, or take care of it yourself.
Fear is common in many workplaces. Theory X managers will often wield fear to try and whip their employees into shape, and motivate them to do the work they were hired to do. Threats of being written up, put on probation, fired, and subsequently losing your insurance, maybe your car or your house, not to mention your sense of identity and self-worth…
Fear is terrible. Fear stifles communication, prevents learning, inhibits innovation, and creates a work environment and workforce that is toxic and terrible.
A culture built on fear is not inherent in traditionally managed environments, nor are agile teams immune to the effects of fear. I think fear really comes from the top down, and any organization can have a bad leader.
What I like about agile is that it calls us out of fear, and if you’re doing it right, it encourages confronting those things that make us afraid and overcoming them.
I do a lot of Atlassian tool configuration for my job as a consultant at Adaptavist, and one of the most common things I hear about halfway through, or soon after, an engagement is that there’s a “bug.” Something isn’t working the way the customer expects it to, and therefore either the software is buggy, or something was misconfigured.
Often, though, criticism is striking at an area where we are most vulnerable. If we identify strongly with our job, then criticism of our performance can feel like criticism of our self or our worth. It can hurt, and in the midst of that hurt it can be hard to identify positive takeaways from the criticism.
It would be asking too much of any of us that we set aside our emotions and always hear criticism objectively so we can analyze it for ways that we might improve. Our emotions are important, and we need to be allowed to feel them. But we can’t let our emotions keep us from understanding the criticism and finding ways to be better.
I was surprised the first time I was told that my colleagues respected me. I was working in Computer Services at Missouri State University, and I had a reputation for being a hardass. I’m the type of person who keeps his personal life separate from his work life, and when I’m at work, I tend to be focused. It didn’t help that it was a stressful job in a highly politicized environment, but my personality is such that I tend to be all business when at work, and I hold both myself and others to a very high standard.
Subsequently, I knew that some people didn’t like me much. But what I didn’t know was that, even though they didn’t like me, many did respect me, and they trusted me. They knew I wouldn’t lie to them about what I thought or what I could get done, and that if I told them something, I would stick by it. If I said I’d do something, I’d do it.
One of my favourite quotes from Strunk and White is, “Don’t compound ignorance with inaudibility.” While it is wise to not say anything if you’ve got nothing nice to say, at least in some circumstances, remaining silent just because you don’t know what you’re talking about benefits no one. You need to be open to correction, and if you don’t ask questions or share your views, you’ll never be able to grow.
We need to get over our fear of being wrong. If we don’t, we’ll never learn enough to be right.