A month after Joseph walked out on the team, there is still that deadline …
That painting on the wall looks expensive. It probably is. Even though he is not an art connoisseur, it would not surprise Tim if this colorful thing was a very exclusive piece. He looks back at Paul and takes a deep breath.
“Look, things haven’t been great for me.” he says. “I have been here for nearly half a year now, but this is not what I expected.”
“What did you expect?” Paul responds.
“A team that I could support and learn from. Really what I’ve gotten used to in other places I worked for the past couple of years.”
Paul taps his fingers on his desk.
“Okay, I realize things haven’t been great in this team. However, I’ll ask you the same thing as I do to all your teammates: what do you think should happen and what can you contribute to make that a reality?”
What? Really? I worked my ass off for the past couple of months.
“I think you misunderstand Paul. It is not my place in this team to decide what should happen, if that is what you want then that really is a different conversation.”
Tim takes a breath and continues.
“Keeping things running and being valued for that is what I am talking about. Seriously, I have already put in an enormous amount of effort, and am continuing to do that on a daily basis. To be perfectly honest: I really think I deserve a raise for that.”
Paul leans back in his chair and crosses his arms.
“A raise of at least ten percent.” Tim adds.
I have been working nine plus hour days the past few months, so it’s more like fair compensation for overtime than an actual raise.
“You deserve a raise? So explain to me: how does that rhyme with the team not performing well currently?”
I am putting in way more effort than anyone else, how can you not see that?
The painting is actually quite ugly. Who would hang such a monstrosity in his office? Tim’s muscles tense and he leans forward, trying to ban the painting from his mind.
“That’s the point I was trying to make: I am doing the best I can.”
“So are your colleagues, Tim. Help me understand what you’re asking.”
Do I need to actually spell it out for you?
“Let me put it this way: without me the old version would have literally collapsed under the load within days, none of the production issues would have been fixed as fast as they have, and there would not be a proper cloud setup for the newly revised app.”
Paul taps his cheek.
“Look, Tim. You have spent several years at start-ups, right?”
“So, you have been on the other side of the table right. I mean: as an employer.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Paul leans over the table.
“Do you really think you’re worth a ten percent raise?”
Tim’s jaw drops as he tries to process what Paul just said.
How dare you even ask this after all the work I put in? Tim swallows that thought.
“Uhm … well, sure. We’ve made more than enough money with the app already over the past couple of months, despite the stability issues, to cover my costs.”
“Look Tim, I hear you. Let’s continue this conversation some other time. We should head for the meeting room, there’s the team’s weekly stakeholder update, and I am hoping to hear good news.”
Don’t get your hopes up, Paul.
Tim enters the meeting room with Paul. He makes eye contact with Sally who raises her eyebrows in a quick “how did it go?” way. Tim shrugs and mimes a sad face. Max and Alice stand at the front of the room and seem to have a presentation prepared.
“Right, so the short story is …”, Max inhales deeply, “that we won’t make next Tuesday’s deadline.”
Tim feels a shiver run down his spine. Paul winces and presses his lips.
“Everyone tried and did their best.” Max sighs deeply, looks around the room, and swallows uncomfortably. “Despite our very best joint effort we haven’t managed to make a new version suitable for production usage.”
How disingenuous is that? I put in a boatload of effort, as did Sally, but the rest … I mean what did Max ever contribute, besides talking with people? Me and Sally have been mostly taking over the past weeks as he was absent half the time.
Tim puts his chest out and raises his hand.
“Does this mean I’ll have to continue to keep the old version in the air for now?”
Max nods. He doesn’t seem half the man he was at the start. He looks pale, lifeless and shorter.
“Let me get this straight.” Paul says. “You have been working on the new version for the past couple of months. Max, you said initially that we could expect a first version after three months.”
Max looks down and away, Paul continues.
“You now had more than a full month extra, and are still unable to make the deadline and deliver something. Is that right?”
Tim sees hesitant nods around the room.
“It seems to me you are stagnant. What happened and more importantly: what’s holding you back?” Paul asks openly.
An awkward silence follows.
“Look, I finished all my tasks, I did all the work I was assigned.” Sally says.
Yeah, and me too.
“But there is no functional end product Sally.”
Sally opens her mouth, but then closes it again, and wrings her hands. Paul slowly looks around the room, waiting for anyone to speak up. When he finds his gaze is met with silence, he sighs and returns to Max.
“When could there be an actually working version?”
Max looks up and starts to stammer.
“Ehm … at this point it is hard to tell. I … I really think we first need to revise our plans.”
Yes, Max. Let’s have more meetings, make more plans, put them up on more boards and do six stand-ups a day. Dear lord.
“I am not happy with this. I mean, things can happen, but until recently, I had no idea we were going to miss the deadline.” Paul looks at Max.
“We did not intend to miss it.” Max responds.
“I understand, but I would have liked to have known this earlier.”
Then Bob, standing next to Tim, bursts out.
“Why do we keep talking about deadlines and stupid plans? Why does no one say a single word about Joseph!”
Paul turns around and looks surprised. Bob continues.
“He left because we failed him, we failed him as a team. But we never even talk about it. The moment he left the office everyone just pretended it was great working with him. One big happy goodbye party. It was the most awkward moment I ever experienced and we never even talked about it.”
“What is there to say? He just didn’t live up to the job. I doubt his presence would have made a difference for the end result today.” Sally responds bluntly.
“Shut up, just shut up!”
Bob walks out of the room. Alice and Tim make brief eye contact. You or me? Alice remains fixed, Tim walks after Bob.
Tim follows Bob outside. He sits down on a bench in front of the office building.
“Hey man, are you okay?”
“I liked him, I really liked Joseph. He helped me all the time.”
“We chased him away. You know what’s even worse?”
“When I talk to other juniors in the company, they all seem to pity me.”
“Because when they hear I am at team Phoenix, they all give me the ‘poor you’ look.”
“And, I don’t like Sally.” Bob continues. “I don’t like the way she treats me.”
“So, why don’t you tell her when she does something you don’t like?”
“I did, in the beginning, I did. But nothing changed, and no else did it either. I thought maybe she’s just like that, you know. Everyone else accepted it.”
“I feel a bit guilty to be honest, maybe I should have stepped in more.”
At this point, Alice comes rushing outside.
“Tim, we need you, the app is down.”
Tim and Bob follow Alice back into the building. They walk back up the stairwell.
“You seen Max?” Alice asks Tim.
“He left right after the meeting.” Alice says.
“Okay, strange. I’ll give him a call later.” Tim replies.
“Bob, how are you feeling?” Alice asks.
“A bit better.”
“Okay, since you were outside with Tim, you probably just missed the announcement.”
Alice looks at Tim.
“I am leaving for another team in the company.” Alice says.
“What? You too? Why?” Bob responds.
“I really need a change.”
Alice avoids eye contact with both of them and turns away.
“Okay.” Bob looks visibly disappointed.
Tim taps his shoulder.
“It’s going to be okay, dude.”
After spending some time fixing the production issues, Tim tries to call Max, but there’s no answer. Right as he wants to put down his phone, there is an incoming call.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“I am good. You’re still rocking at GasDown?”
“Definitely rocking it, but no longer at GasDown. That’s actually the reason I called. Can I have a moment to tell you about an awesome new business I’ve been working on?”
“Sure man. You had my interest, now you have my attention.”
“Hah, still into the movie quotes I see.”
Andrew then spends several minutes explaining his idea.
“Again, if you’re happy where you are that’s good, but if you’re looking for a change, you’d be welcome to join us. I’d love to work with you again.”
“Thanks, I’ll consider it.”
As Tim hangs up the phone he feels a jolt of excitement. Perhaps it’s time for a change. Before he can think it over, Paul calls everyone in the meeting room again.
Long live the captain
“I have an announcement,” Paul says. “As you may have noticed, Max has been here a bit less often over the past weeks. After today’s update, I have decided to temporarily take over his role, I will talk with all of you individually in the upcoming days.”
What is this? Is the captain jumping ship in the heat of the battle?
Some people gasp.
Tim walks out of the meeting room conflicted.
Should I stay, or should I go? Perhaps it’s best to jump ship too.
Tim believes he is entitled to a raise. He wants to be compensated for the extra effort he put in. The lack of ‘team feel’ makes everyone, Tim included, retreat onto their own territory. Since there are no results to show, the focus shifts to individual contributions and further dodging of accountability. We see this also in Sally’s response.
Max indicates they can’t give an estimate about when they will be able to deliver a final stable version of the app that can be widely released. The fact they missed a deadline is something that can happen, though as Paul points out, keeping it under the rug is not the best way to deal with this. However, what is worse is that the team is stagnant, there is no improvement in their process and thus also not in their product.
It is not surprising then that Bob has a bit of a breakdown. He is still dealing with the loss of Joseph, something not openly discussed in the team. Hence again we see this coming out explosively due to a lack of safety. Not only is Bob upset about Joseph leaving, he also feels ashamed about being in a pitied team. Tim manages to comfort him somewhat, although Alice than gives him another blow by announcing her departure.
After fixing a critical production issue (again), Tim is phoned by an old friend who makes him a good offer. Like Alice, and Joseph, Tim is also oriented on delivering results. He can’t do that in this environment, so leaving for something different becomes an attractive option. Especially now that the team seems to be falling apart.
We see that avoiding accountability leads to inattention to results. While individuals care about the part they contributed, they don’t care for the success of the team. The result is a focus on their own status and ego: personal success over team success. This is the last straw that individuals grasp in a truly dysfunctional environment.
Teams like this not only miss deadlines, they also do not have the mechanisms in place to learn. The result is that they never get out of their predicament and continue to run in circles. Deadlines and deliverables continuously shift. In the rare instance they are met, it is even played down as a fluke if the team is sufficiently demotivated.
The first people to leave such teams are the ones focused on results. They are the first to feel deprived when deadlines constantly slip, and thus to seek the reward they need elsewhere.
They key dysfunctions with respect to inattention to results are:
- A focus on ego: personal success over team success.
- Stagnation, no (more) continuous improvement.
- Missed deadlines and deliverables.
What could the team do differently?
- An atmosphere were everyone ‘just does his best’, sets them up for failure. The team as a whole should publicly commit to achieving specific milestones instead, learn from their failures and share them to improve themselves and other teams within the company.
- Leaders should set the tone for a focus on achieving objective results in a selfless manner. They should recognize and reward those that make real contributions to the achievement of team goals.
- Leaders should tie rewards to specific outcomes up front. This can be done in the form of raises, bonuses or other variable reward components that preferably apply to the entire team for achieving joint goals.