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Posted on: Friday, 19 December 2008 by Rajiv Popat

When one of your job role includes managing working with a team it is best for you and everyone you work with, if you to have a very short memory.

 

This post now has a picture and I’ve said what I wanted to say. I’m done. Post over. Thank you for reading. You can close your browser window now. 

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Hey wait!

That was a joke you idiot!

You weren’t closing that browser or that aggregator window, were you?

Seriously!

This post is far from over. You know the part where I sell my idea to you even if you aren’t willing to buy it at first shot? That part is still left. Read on, dear reader. Read on and help me help you get convinced that having a short memory, is an asset for you; particularly, If you are a project manager, or in any way responsible for leading a team.

To prove my point, I’m going to talk about perception, stickiness, arguments, shit and finally bring everything together to help you see things from my perspective. Humor me dear reader. I have a point to make. At-least I think I do.

Perception:

Human beings are animals working on perception. Andrew Hunt and David Thomas in their book ‘The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master’ describe the power of perception:

We've never tried this—honest. But they say that if you take a frog and drop it into boiling water, it will jump straight back out again. However, if you place the frog in a pan of cold water, then gradually heat it, the frog won't notice the slow increase in temperature and will stay put until cooked. 

Perception is powerful. In a project running at Multiplitaxion Inc, the team made a terrible mistake. When their team lead picked an invalid underlying framework which was built to support resume driven development in the first place, no one in the team argued back.

Needless to say, the project burnt-out very soon and the team was taking way too much time to implement each feature as they struggled with each build push cycle. They were staying late, working hard, making ends meet and struggling. They had played really hard working nice guys but had lost the battle way before it had begun.

They had failed. But that was not their biggest mistake. More than a failed project, they had created for themselves, a sudden jerk of unhealthy perception. They had thrown the management in the bowl of boiling water and they had done it suddenly.

Stickiness:

As human beings we don’t tend to judge other human beings holistically. We either see their good side or their bad side. We either glorify individuals or we demonize them. Have you every been in ‘resource review meetings’ of even some of the best organizations on this planet? ‘He is good’, ‘she is bad’, ‘he is average’ – statements like these, and individuals being labeled as ‘good’, ‘average’ or ‘bad’ is a common practice in our industry.

In most organizations, the perception of failure or the label with the word ‘bad’ has even a larger problem associated with it: it’s sticky.

On a side note, remember that boy who was in kindergarten with you and was punished for naughtiness regularly back then? He was the naughtiest brat in school all the way till high school wasn’t he?

Look at your ‘resource report’ and go look at that guy who had failed in a couple of projects when he joined the organization. Chances are, he is well on his way to yet another failed project.  Doesn’t that sound awfully similar to that brat in kindergarten who remained a brat all the way till high-school?

The perception of failure is indeed sticky.

Arguments:

This one really deserves a post by itself; but the fact is, that if you have a decently smart team from varied background, cultures and pasts they are going to be highly opinionated. They are not going to be afraid starting a fight with you; argue with you; drive you nuts and even make you feel like firing them.

Shit:

Here’s a small part of things I’ve seen happening in my career spanning over years spent in a few organization. Even though these are incidents that have happened in different organizations, cultures and countries they have one common theme which we shall get to soon. Here’s a part of the list of incidents:

  1. A particular individual was stealing Office supplies and RAM from the office hardware and ultimately ended up getting caught.
  2. A particular individual was billing the client for his groceries and videos. 
  3. A particular individual got into a heated mail argument over Java vs. .NET for no particular reason.

I could go on with the list forever but I’m sure if you were reading carefully you may have noticed the common theme amongst these incidents. These incidents were all shitty; but the individuals involved in those incidents weren’t anywhere close to being shitty. I leave you with words of wisdom from Forest Gump'Shit Happens'.

Connecting The Dots:

Perception is powerful. Besides being a manager you are one-hundred percent human and chances are that perception is going to have a huge impact on you. You team is going to fail all the time; failure is going to have some stickiness associated with it; People are going to argue with you and make you feel like you really need to fire them; and shit, well that’s just bound to happen all the time.

Where am I trying to go with this?

All I am trying to do is tell you dear reader, that maybe, just maybe, that naughty little guy who was a brat in kindergarten, remained a brat all the way till high school because when he moved from one class to another teachers exchanged feedback and every teacher that followed had a very sharp memory.

In simple words, dear reader, the point I am trying to make here, is that if you lead a project or work with a team, maybe, just maybe, you would be better off having a short memory and wiping the slate clean once or twice for our colleagues. Overcoming bad perceptions, letting go of stickiness associated with failures, dealing with arguments and cleaning up shit is not easy; but then, when I started this post, I never said I was going to tell you that creating an environment where successful teams can blossom is easy. All I said was that I would talk about the virtues of a short memory; and I did.

I’m an idiot with a thick skin and a very short memory; and I’m proud of that. Are you?

If you are managing working with a team consider criticism with empathy and help them when they make mistakes. Once their mistakes are history, consider forgetfulness and wipe their slate clean once in a while.

Ok, now I’m done.

Thank you for reading.

Post over. You can close that browser or that aggregator window now.