I might be the wrong person

I once had a personally troubling experience where I was let go from a team for failure to fit in. The team, as it turns out, did not "gel" properly. It seems it was determined that I was the cause or at least one of the causes of the discord. Rather than speak with me about my behavior, provide me actionable feedback, or offer me an opportunity to alter my behavior, the team lead chose to instead make a recommendation for my dismissal.

When I got the call to let me know that I was to be relieved of my duties pending the completion of the current project, I was blind-sided. Stunned, and trying to remain calm, I asked about my performance of duties. I was assured that I did the job well. That there were no complaints about my ability to do the work or my actual work performance. The issue was that certain members of the team didn't feel like I was a complete team player. Asking for specific examples, I received vague and strange feedback; things about how I behaved at social events, observations on my lack of attentiveness in the team room during times when we were all doing individual work, and favoritism toward a specific team mate such as talking to them more than others or bringing them a tea when I got one for myself. Most of the feedback included phrases like, "...just kinda felt like...." or "...sorta seemed...". Few concrete examples and nothing that warranted termination.

I thought it over, and rather than accept the situation, I appealed to the management committee. I asked for the opportunity to speak to the specific points that warranted my termination, or to at least be provided such points in writing so that I could clearly understand the basis of the recommendation for my termination. No such information was provided. Instead, the management committee overturned the ruling, allowing me to stay in the position.

As the project was coming to an end, a new Team Lead was announced for the next project. This new Team Lead had a professional relationship with the prior Team Lead. Whenever a project begins, there is an opportunity for the Team Lead to adjust team composition, if it is deemed necessary for the success of the project. It is kind of a "fire somebody for free" card.

As you might guess, I was again let go for failure to "gel" with the team. This, according to the new Team Lead, was based on their personal observations of the team and was not influenced by any other factors. This new Team Lead had worked previously with every member of the team except me; I was the only new(ish) member. This Team Lead had not been present at any team meetings, outings, or interactions with the team since I'd joined. In other words, the new Team Lead had no possible personal observations about my interactions with the team. None.

When I asked again for feedback, I was simply told that the team failed to "gel" and "needed a little shaking up". I was again assured that my performance of duties was not the issue. And again, when I asked for the observations that warranted my termination in writing, nothing was provided.

This time, I decided not to fight it.

Clearly, I was the wrong person for this team.

In hopes of avoiding such a situation in the future, I think it important to identify what exactly it is that you're getting if you decide to add me to your team, committee, or board. As this is my only experience of the sort, my examples of how I might be the wrong person are a direct reflection of the behavior and expectations of this specific team. If I have another such experience, I will certainly expand the list.

  • If firing someone comes before providing them feedback in your leadership model, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If being buddies is as important as (if not more important than) doing the job well, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If getting food for one team member, but not all is grounds for termination without warning, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If refusing to allow a team member the opportunity to share their own perspective before firing them (or ever) is part of your management style, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If providing mother's rooms "will encourage the wrong kinds of people to be here" is part of your culture, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If trivializing Code Of Conducts and victim blaming is acceptable, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If "the manager feels personally close to you" is a job requirement, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If your hiring process is done by a committee to help avoid bias, but the team lead can overrule the group to bring in a "dear dear friend who just needs to be here", I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If the nature of one's personal relationships outside of work is used to evaluate work performance, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If the team is expected to attend social outings in sexually charged atmospheres, I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If people who express discomfort with sexually charges atmospheres need to "lighten up", I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If jokes about a man forcing a woman to commit a sexual act against her will is "harmless adult humor", I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If the manager motor-boating a member of the wait staff is "just good fun", I might be the wrong person for your team.
  • If receiving late night photo texts of other team members in bed with each other helps your team "gel", I might be the wrong person for your team.

Leadership and Humility

Leadership and Humility

In November of 2015, HBR published an article entitled, "We Like Leaders Who Underrate Themselves". The authors describe an extensive study based on 69,000 managers, 750,000 respondents and hundreds of companies where through an analysis of 360-degree feedback data, they found that leaders who rate themselves poorly compared to how their subordinates rate them are not only seen more favorably by their employees, but actually have more engaged employees.

Bottom line to the article:

"The more people overrated themselves, the higher the probability that they have fatal flaws and the lower the probability they have any strengths. The more people underrate themselves, however, the higher the probability they have strengths and the lower the probability they have fatal flaws."

Doers Decide

Doers Decide

A hat tip to Tyler Jennings for the title of this post. He and I were in a meeting some time ago, along with a lot of other interesting people from Groupon Engineering. We were sharing our thoughts on team leadership and the role of managers. There was talk about how decisions need to be made close to the work and how managers need to not just seek advice, but actually provide others the opportunity to make decisions.

Naming Teams

Naming Teams

I was recently contacted by a colleague looking for a bit of advice.

C: "We are thinking about merging two teams together and we're not sure how to message the change."

D: "What do you think will be your biggest challenges?"

C: "Well, for one, we're not sure how the funnel flow team will respond to being folded into the purchase page team."

Organizational Motivators: Autonomy, Connection, and Excellence.

Organizational Motivators: Autonomy, Connection, and Excellence.

I think I saw Daniel Pink's TED Talk on "The Puzzle of Motivation" for the first time in 2011. I'd been reading some about leadership, management, and organizational psychology up to that point, but Pink's talk and his distillation of these complex concepts into a simple framework (Autonomy, Connection, and Excellence) inspired me to read more on the topics. Over the course of the next couple of years, I consumed a decent amount of material. You can view my Goodreads account to see what books I was reading. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to share all of the scientific articles and other sources I also consumed.

Shaping culture through inaction

Shaping culture through inaction

It is not only the things we reward that shape culture, but the things we allow. Perhaps the easiest way to shape a culture is to do nothing at all.

When a rockstar employee yells at, denigrates, or refuses to help teammates and you let it slide because the rockstar is valuable, you are shaping a culture. When a teammate tells a racist or sexist joke and you say nothing because nobody present is a member of the target group, you are shaping a culture. When an executive abuses power, when a coworker engages in gossip, when a team cuts corners to make deadlines and you decide it isn't your problem, you are shaping a culture.

Jungle Gyms, Not Ladders

Jungle Gyms, Not Ladders

I've worked for essentially two types of companies - those that have clearly defined job ladders and those that don't.

A clearly defined job ladder provides people a clear picture of what they need to accomplish and what skills they need to display in order to move into a new role. A clearly defined job ladder provides a baseline for performance appraisals. Everyone in the organization knows what is expected of people in each role. Are you displaying these attributes with a level of proficiency requisite for the role, or are you not? Job ladders make the expectations of progress and the opportunity for advancement clear and consistent.

Being a Boss

In some manner or another, I've served in roles frequently referred to as "boss" for over 20 years. In a few cases, I owned the company, in whole or in part. In many more instances, I held some rank that granted me authority over the work-lives of others. I've learned a great deal over the years. And I am definitely still learning.

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to share what little I have learned about being a boss.