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Fear, Trust and Truth in IT teams

Fear, Trust and Truth in IT teams

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Published by Jacques Sapriel
This article looks at the negative impact of Fear on organizations in general and on Information Technology driven organizations in particular. The steps of the Software Development Life Cycle process are steps in a process of distilling and identifying the nuggets of truth inside the problem space defined in project requirements.
In that context, the Project Manager/Scrum Master becomes the guardian of the project/team integrity by maintaining a collaborative, fear free atmosphere and by holding him/herself and the team accountable to its commitments.
The author suggests a practical protocol that blends mindfulness practice and business process into a standard project team checkpoint meeting as a tool to create and maintain deep listening, a collaborative atmosphere and enable the tuning of team members to each other.
This article looks at the negative impact of Fear on organizations in general and on Information Technology driven organizations in particular. The steps of the Software Development Life Cycle process are steps in a process of distilling and identifying the nuggets of truth inside the problem space defined in project requirements.
In that context, the Project Manager/Scrum Master becomes the guardian of the project/team integrity by maintaining a collaborative, fear free atmosphere and by holding him/herself and the team accountable to its commitments.
The author suggests a practical protocol that blends mindfulness practice and business process into a standard project team checkpoint meeting as a tool to create and maintain deep listening, a collaborative atmosphere and enable the tuning of team members to each other.

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Published by: Jacques Sapriel on Mar 27, 2007
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05/08/2014

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Fear, Trust and Truth in IT Project Teams
We live a paradox
in which we spend more than half of our waking hours inwork related activities and what we think of as “Life” happens outside of work. From this pointof view, work-time becomes “dead time”, and Life becomes what is leftover.The direct consequence of this very commonly held attitude is that people do not bring the wholeof who they are to work. They/I leave part of their/my self at home. Who is to say that what is being left at home is not important and of value to the work place? For workgroup productivityto improve in business, it is essential to move beyond this paradox.The biggest obstacle to employees bringing more of who they are into their work is the FEAR running rampant in organizations of every size and culture.We have grown unaware of the incredible amount of fear that permeates life in our culture. Wehave grown to ignore the tension created by working side by side with colleagues/co-workersunder appearance of togetherness and the reality of personal isolation.Fear based management uses coercion, manipulation and blame to obtain desired outcomes. Partof the issue is that often the executive management of an organization is not aware of the impactof its own managerial style. Fearlessness is not the absence of Fear. Fearlessness isacknowledging and moving beyond Fear.Research and observation suggest that people will do anything in situations where fear reigns inthe shadow, including agreeing to unrealistic performance goals. What is worse, employees and people who feel constrained, obliged or forced to perform to expectations they did not set for themselves typically experience much higher level of stress and can feel victimized, becomeresistant, take on negative attitudes and develop passive aggressive behaviors toward theorganization and/or their leadership. The result is lower productivity, lower levels of efficiencyand higher medical insurance costs.We will examine first why work environments that cultivate Fearlessness matters to the overallorganization and to the IT industry in particular. We will look at the impact of fear on softwaredevelopers. We will see how Truth Seeking and Truth Telling are essential to softwaredevelopment and consider a number of suggestions on how a Project Manager can create aFearless project team. We will close by looking at how a combination of spiritual and business practices can be a key to collaborative project teams.
A work environment that recognizes and moves beyond Fear matters to theoverall organization
Unacknowledged Fear plays a critical role in the workplace:-It weights heavily on individual psychological processes,-It prohibits honest and efficient communication at the group or community level,-It negatively affects team members’ behavior,1
 
-It negatively impacts employees creativity and productivity.Building a work environment that acknowledges Fear and moves beyond Fear without fallinginto blame matters to the organization. Because of increased competition, the faster pace of technological innovation, the relentless drive to lower cost and continuously improve process,the conduct of today’s organizations requires building on all of what employees can contribute tothe organization.We know that humans have capabilities, skills, creativity and intuition far beyond the narrowconfines of a job description. For people to bring more of themselves into their workplacerequires developing emotionally safe workplaces. The safer individuals feel in a group, the morelikely they are to contribute to the group. In fact, I believe that creating an atmosphere whereemployees are passionate about contributing is critical to anyone in a leadership positionworking with software developers in the IT Industry.A work environment that cultivate collaboration and Fearlessness matters for the efficientfunctioning of the overall organization and it is critically important for CIOs, and ProjectManagers working with software developers in IT Consulting, Software Development firms andInformation Technology departments.To illustrate this point please read the short case study associated with this article. The case studyis based on the history of the Information Technology Department at Trident PharmaceuticalCorporation. Trident Pharmaceutical is a fictional entity and any resemblance with an actualorganization would be purely coincidental.While reading this case study, I suggest you pay attention to
all
the factors that contribute toincreasing the level of fear in the mind of the staff members of the Trident PharmaceuticalBusiness Computing Group (BCG).
A Fearless work environment matters to the IT Industry
There are three reasons why a Fearless work atmosphere is critical to the IT industry:
1.Fear is the main obstacle to truth telling
The only people who really know what is going on in an IT project are the softwaredevelopers directly working on the project. It follows that if I truly want to ensure thateveryone on my project team contributes their candid opinions, maximum energy andcreativity, I need to ensure that the people in IT leadership position make the meetings theyfacilitate safe for the software developers who participate. Safe, i.e.: free of anger  projections, blame and finger pointing.
2.Fear is the main obstacle to Programmers’ creativity.
Why is there a need for creativity in programming?Programming isn't science, and it isn't engineering, although programmers routinely use toolsfrom Science (Mathematics and Logic in particular) and Engineering (design before build),to structure their work.Programming is magical: something is created out of nothing. Programming is an art formthat is similar in many ways to creative writing or music composition. Programmingsimultaneously requires a strong analytical mind, a high level of attention to details, andcreativity.2
 
As there are multiple ways to open a bottle, a software system can be designed and coded inmultiple ways. It is up to the software developer to design solutions and build code that iselegant, practical and efficient, and their creative powers are needed to address all threequalities effectively.In a Fear filled environment, a software developer’s creativity is compromised and thequality of the end product suffers.
3.Fear is the main obstacle to establishing a team-based collaborative culture
Fear is prevalent in organizations of every size and culture because the human dimension isleft out of a decision-making processes that is based on economic, technical and personalinterest considerations. Organizations are communities. As a community, your corporation ismore similar to a living organism than to a machine like a computer cluster. Often decisionmakers do not take into consideration the environmental impact and costs of their decisions,look at humans as replaceable commodities, neither do they consider or make explicit their concern for the well being of the organization they are leading.I started this article by stating that fear is the main obstacle to Truth telling.
Truth seeking and Truth telling are essential to the whole process of software development
.Requirement Gathering, Business Analysis, Specification Development, Coding and Testing aresteps in a process of distilling human language into small nuggets of truth. So much so that theobjective of traceability software tools and of Formal Development Methods is to validate thatevery work-product created during the software development process from UML design to codespecifications actually meet each requirement they attempt to satisfy.In that respect, truth seeking is as close to a spiritual practice as it is to a business process.In order to increase safety, eliminate the separation between “life” and “work”,decrease/eliminate fear at work, make truth seeking and telling possible, I suggest that to makeyour project team meetings a blend of ritual/spiritual practice and business process.The Sanskrit word “Sadhana” comes to mind. “Sadhana” means:
-
"Disciplined practice towards a goal”,
 -
“Seeking truth”,
-
The establishment of a truth”
The role of the Project Manager 
 
in this proposed paradigm is to move the projectalong by keeping the integrity of the team and of the project while maintaining acollaborative fearless atmosphere.
I suggest you see each project team as an opportunity to practice holding the terms of thisapparent contradiction.
How can you create a team culture where team members can move beyondtheir Fear ?
-Start your team meetings with an activity that will relax the team members and bringthem together at the same time.3

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