• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • Mistakes on collaborative teams are bad. “Post-mortem” meetings indicate just how catastrophic the consequences of bad decisions can be. Build-checking tools like the Siren of Shame and LightBuild, designed to give instant feedback when something goes wrong, rightly emphasize the need for accountability and responsiveness to errors.

    If mistakes sink teams, why on earth would you want to focus on anything else? Because there’s one thing that matters more than avoiding errors, and that is seeing what is really true. And to see what’s really true, you need to address two brain tendencies.

    The first tendency is that we prefer an oversimplified story that is either all cyclones or all rainbows. That simplicity is a good survival mechanism in a lot of contexts—it’s very efficient—but doesn’t come to terms with the complex reality of collaborative team work. What’s really true is that both failures and successes happen, all the time. To have an accurate view of reality, one that enables you to take action to optimize what’s working and fix what’s not working, you really need to see both.

    The second tendency is that we prefer to see problems. In the ancestral human environment the consequence of missing a problem could be the end of your life, so it’s a better survival to anticipate a problem (even if it’s not really there). But in a complex environment like ours, your built-in preference skews your attention to observe only those things you judge as problems. If you’re going to reduce the world to either cyclones or rainbows, then you’re likely to pick cyclones, every time.

    The remedy is really quite simple, almost too simple: you and your team need to celebrate your successes. The reason to do this is not to sweep problems under the rug, or to be overly optimistic. You celebrate successes in order to overcome the bias toward negativity and restore the equilibrium from all-bad to both-good-and-bad.

    In my role as a program manager delivering complex enterprise initiatives, I have been as skeptical as anyone else about too much “happy-clappy” celebration. It’s easy to see it as overly optimistic, or sweeping problems under the rug. But seen instead as a way to keep a team’s view of reality in balance, celebration is essential.

    Try It: Consider something your team accomplished in the last month. Did you take the time to adequately celebrate, so you could all really see what worked, and why? Did problems or difficulties overshadow your ability to truly acknowledge and experience what went right? What would it take for your team to bring its view of reality back into balance?

    Image:  https://www.maxpixel.net/Funny-Fig-Policewoman-Cop-Colleagues-Police-1016218  CC0 Public Domain