Motivated Individuals: Your Champions for High Performing Teams

Anthony Mersino
April 26, 2017

The 5th Agile Principle says to hire motivated people and empower and trust them. The opposite of this would be to hire unmotivated people and to disempower and micromanage them. Is it just me or is that what happens quite frequently in organizations?

Could you be Big Brother?

In a recent training class, I had 3 new Scrum teams and their managers in the room. I had to ask the managers to not sit with their teams so that the teams could begin learning how to self-organize. In the very first exercise the teams did, I had to again ask the managers to not participate with their teams. It was painful to watch! Those managers were beside themselves - they were unable to sit still while they watched their teams work without them. They explained to me that they knew the teams would need their help.

In a discussion with some team members at another client, they described management practices as micromanagement. Not only were they constantly interrupted and prompted for forecasts and estimates, the managers treated them with disrespect. The team members said they were treated like "dumbasses". 

Wow! Are we really not hiring great people and trusting them to get the job done? If we don't trust people, is that our fault or theirs? Are we creating the environment for high performing teams? I don't think so.

There is even a term for this - helicopter managers. They are the ones who don't leave people alone and who micromanage because they don't trust that people will perform. These managers believe they know better and are superior.

I was struck by the contrast between these two situations and a structured learning program for students called Destination Imagination. A friend of mine has two children in this unique learning program for kids that is based on team projects. Here is a description of the goal of the program from a website:

The goal of Destination Imagination is to help children learn that through a combination of creativity, teamwork & tenacity, that they can develop creative solutions to complex problems completely on their own.

I was excited because that description of students working in teams sounds a lot like what we would expect an Agile team to do! Another aspect of the Destination Imagination program that I liked were the strict rules around what the students did versus what parents could contribute. We've probably all seen examples of over-functioning parents that completed the diorama or science fair project for their child. Destination Imagination has rules around what they call "Interference"; unnecessary and illegal parental participation in student projects. Here is a summary of the rules of interference:

  1. Only team members can contribute ideas or work on the project.
  2. Teams cannot accept ideas or work from anyone outside the team. If anyone outside the team contributes anything, the team needs to start over without using that work or idea.
  3. If a team does not have the skills needed to build out their own ideas, the team needs to learn those skills.

Wow! Do you see how these rules not only encourage learning, they empower kids and show that they are trusted, just like the Agile Principle. 

Would "interference" rules help the managers in your organization do a better job? 

How about these for a start:

  1. Don't hire dumbasses. If you have people you don't trust or that you think cannot learn, you have only yourself to blame. Recruit better people, grow the ones you can and cut the ones you can't. It's not easy but that is your job!
  2. Create the environment for people to excel. Good leaders create an environment where people can do their best work. Employees should feel safe and trusted to get the job done. They should feel supported. They should be encouraged to learn the skills they need to get the job done.
  3. Let the team fail. Yes, I said fail. The only way for teams to learn and grow is to acquire the skills they need and to try things that ultimately may not work. If your environment won't support failure and learning, then it won't support growth in agile and self-organizing teams.
  4. Stop hovering. Good people don't need bosses. They also don't need external motivation. What they need is to be given a challenge and then be left alone to solve it. Make yourself available but don't insert yourself into everything. If you act like your job is babysitting, then you will probably grow a bunch of babies who are dependent on you.

What do you think? Could these rules help your motivated individuals to grow into high performing teams?

About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

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