Does the team trust itself?

In my last article, I considered why tech debt isn’t getting paid off. And my answer was basically that you cause tech debt to occur to your team as unimportant because you let it pile up and treat it as a bottom-most priority.

Here, however, I want to ask a different question about the same situation.

Does your team trust itself to do what it says it will do, or that it actually values what it says it values?

When the team says “We want clean code”, but they keep churning out an ever-increasing mess, they are living at odds with what they say.

Not doing what you say you’ll do becomes an acceptable norm on the team.

And this leads to a breakdown of integrity, not just in this situation, but as a habitual state of working on the team together.

Integrity and Workability: Defining Upper Bounds for Performance

M.C. Jensen has a great article about Integrity. He pulls out why things don’t really work without integrity.

To simplify, if every team member has a 10% chance of somehow not doing what they said they’d do (forgetting, getting busy, other priorities), then on a 5 person team, there is a 41% chance that a team commitment won’t get done when it’s supposed to be done. (90% ^ 5 = likelihood of everyone keeping their commitments = ~59%).

This means that our opportunity-set for actually meeting our goals as a baseline is 32.8%. The best we can do is hit our targets 1/3 of the time.

This makes the team unworkable.

And to make things even worse, the team doesn’t even think that it matters that they make plans because they never actually execute on them.

The plans are not happening so much that you can’t even get engagement in planning. (While plans never quite work out, planning is crucial). Planning starts to occur to the team as a waste of time.

So now the opportunity for good performance is further diminished because of the things that we might accomplish, we are less likely to be working on them in a sensible way.

Uncertainty Kills Energy

Have you ever been in a state of uncertainty about something?

It drains your energy. You’re in an in-between place, wondering which thing you ought to do, and likely doing nothing, while at the same time getting more tired. (Generally, if you got tired, it’s nice to have done some work.)

Contrast that with the energy you get from focus and clarity. Great plans, next steps are clear, and you believe that this is going to happen. You’re unleashed! Everything is possible!

By creating unreliability, we also create uncertainty as a habitual way of work. And that means your people are also less motivated.

Broken Integrity is a Recipe for Slow Teams

So now we see 3 pernicious effects. Plans aren’t happening, planning is less useful, and energy suffers because of uncertainty.

What’s the fix?

The fix to a lack of integrity is to start… doing what you say! And cleaning up the mess when you can’t or when things have to change.

By helping team members to live up to their words, they will start to trust each other, and to be consistent with what they say they will do, and this will unlock energy, enthusiasm, and start to elevate performance almost immediately.

Simple. Simple, but not easy.

2 Comments Does the team trust itself?

  1. QJ

    Great post! Integrity is critical in personal excellence and team trust. But how do we help everyone on the team improve integrity, or say, accountability?

    Part of that is raising individual self awareness, part of that is improving competency? A lot of hurdles to break through for every person going through it for sure.

    1. maxsumme

      Part of what the team needs to do is to make agreements. This can be hard, as many people relate to agreements and commitments as though they are burdens, and they don’t want accountability.

      This is because we often live in a place where responsibility is the same thing as “fault”. Once we shift the occurence of ownership to be one of power instead of shame, people will want that.

      But before that can happen, we need to bring the unsaid and unaware payoffs for living in a place of disempowerment out, and this is of course where the conversations take on more of the character of development coaching.

      These kinds of engagements are hard, and a lot of business leaders would rather employees come to work as completely mature individuals. But since none of us are completely developed and mature in every respect, we spend a lot of our energy at work hiding instead of growing. Showing weaknesses is not rewarded with development opportunity, but often lowers us in the estimation of our colleagues.

      Ultimately, the team needs to stop acting out of its old thoughts and has to create a new future, and people have to deal with their nonsense together.


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