Recently I lived a series of days, and even weeks when confusion and uncertainty filled the air at my company. At least that is how I felt. I didn't know if my peers felt the same. I just knew something was off.
For those who don't know my background, I am a team leader/project manager/tech lead at a mid-sized software company. I work with many teams with different skills and interact with every level of the hierarchy in the company.
The situation I am describing occurs before 2 projects were about to begin. At that time we lacked the team to face these projects. That in itself is a problem. But there was something more.
People seemed not to care. Communication was null. The product owner did not talk to me about the projects. The delivery team did not talk to me about them. The operations manager did not talk to me about them. You guessed it, no one talked to me about them. It seemed I was the only one caring.
In meetings with each of them, every time I brought up concerns about the situation or proposed some action, no one joined to discuss and treat the subject. These debates were postponed, dismissed, or minimized.
That meant that I was alone with these enigmatic projects, by myself, with my head and my thoughts. Me being me, I try to solve problems and move forward with everything I got. But this time, I could not. The data I had was so little, the horizon was deep in a fog of war. I was alone, trying to reverse engineer, trying to plan this project without a clear team, without a concrete specification, and without an estimated delivery roadmap.
Then I summoned a mentor of mine inside the company. He made me realize that what I needed to do was to gather everybody and lead them in the same direction. He told me to write an email...
An email to lead them all.
"Gather everybody - he said - and point out everything you see that is wrong and needs to be addressed. You need their help, not because you are bad at your job, but because they are lacking.".
The thing is that everybody assumed I would take care of everything. Everybody was relaxed. With that email, I sounded the alarm. People thought "Oh! An email gathering all the leaders? Pointing out a problem? This may need my attention".
Something about the written word is powerful. It allows the rational brain to work, you have time to chew ideas and think about what you are reading. When in dialogue, real-time interaction diminishes this capacity of the rational brain.
People are minding their own business and solving problems that are real to them now. They will automatically knock aside everything that may signify another problem. It requires effort and discipline to make time for thinking ahead, working collaboratively, and planning. Sometimes you need to nudge people to wake them. Turn them on and remove the blindfolds.
When you encounter a problem that is too complex. When you find yourself struggling to make sense of a situation. Sound the alarm. Look for help. Teams are there to help and they have enormous power. Your brain is worse than a lot of brains. Use them all if you have some at your disposal. People want to help each other, but sometimes they are narrowly focused on their day-to-day.
Communication is key. Writing a good email may be the best choice you have to start or renew a fire in people. You need to lead them in the same direction. That is the way forward, with people, not by yourself.
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