5 Whys is a blog about technical leadership in the software world.

Burst your team's bubble - stop protecting them from the surrounding organization

During the learning phase of your team, one of the nicest things you can do for your team members, is to stop protecting them from the surrounding organization. It was a great thing to do during the chaos phase, when you all needed time to put out all the fires. But now, that you have some time to learn new things as a team, that learning can be triggered by letting the organization "leak" into your team.

You can start doing it incrementally at first. It doesn't have to be a burst, but you can start with allowing some of the following to occur (under careful watch):

  • Allow the sales folks to walk into the team's room and ask questions or make demands. Your team will start feeling the pressure from within the organization and start learning how to deal with it, or how to face reality of what people in the organization feel about their performance as a team. They will, with your help, develop new skills based on this (such as talking to non technical people)


  • Allow the marketing folks to ask questions about upcoming features while the team is working. Allow them to push for closer schedules.


  • Don't bridge a team member's need for something *from* the organization (such as getting better chairs, or a new screen). Instead, ask them what they intend to do about it. See what happens. Back them up with any action they'd like to take (talk to the CEO? Talk to the equipment manager?). Grow their skills in navigating the network that is your organization. Help them realize that they don't need you (besides your backing), to achieve things they need.


  • Get the team to do first level support, and help them develop the skill of creating features and fixing usability problems based on customer talks. facing reality is important for a learning team, and staying in a comfortable iteration where the team is fully protected is nice, but no one is learning from it.

They will not thank you.

They will, sometimes, despise you for "breaking" your promise to be their leader and protect them. YOU will feel like you are betraying them a bit as well. That's ok. That's part of YOUR growth path. you're getting out of your own comfort zone (of how to lead a team), by learning how to get your team out of THEIR comfort zone.

Explain the reasoning behind it, and follow up with whatever learning they will need to accomplish their newfound tasks.

By BACKING them,  I also mean that you are willing to remove some of the development time in support of learning time. A developer trying ot get a new screen might need a half hour or more off, depending on how large your organization is, after all.

Here's a simple rule to follow during the learning phase:

If everyone is feeling comfortable in what they are doing, you are not doing your job.

Growth comes from doing things you're NOT good at, you're NOT comfortable with. It's that feeling you get when learning a new programming language, a new IDE, or switching from windows to Linux.

More about learning, in future posts.

Video: The Mistake at the heart of Agile - Michael Feathers, NDC 2011

The Clean Coder