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I got wicked good e-mail on Attacking Despair Part 1. Keep those cards and letter coming!

Some folks pressed really hard for me to get Part 2 out the door and onto the screen. Which, first of all, makes me glow with pretty much unrestrained warmth.  (Remember, I’m just like your teams: catch me doing something right and I’m yours forever.)

On the other hand, it also serves as the perfect invocation of the first of my three meta-points.

A despairing team is a desperate situation, yes? You’re considering all sorts of dramatic action, including a certain number of your own heroic measures. Surely, once I give you the secret anti-despair recipe, you’ll be off and running!

Dang it. There are three meta-points we need to make before we jump straight for the tactics.

Patience: Get The Super-Sized Box

If a team is so demoralized that they’re limp and listless we have a very serious problem. Nevertheless, it took more than one bad week to render them despairing, and it will take more than one week to undo the damage.

The combination of tactics we’ll discuss will work. The team’s gray mist will gradually burn off, and that team will come back to life. But nothing happens fast in a despairing team. Nothing.

This meta-point connects directly to some of the tactics: finding coverage for your efforts, lowering productivity standards, mainlining features, and so on.

Get A Room

Soon, we’ll consider how we should approach the practices of the team, managing some kind of a rough ordering. It might seem that ‘getting a room’ is really just an anticipation, but it’s not.

The open workspace is an urgent meta-tool.

We are seeking a way to work so that we can harness geek joy in service to a business enterprise. Our biggest immediate problem is there’s no joy left to harness. (Oops.)

We want to re-infect the team with geek juice, and infections spread significantly faster when we put people closer to each other. If the team lives in separate cubes, we have to multiply our invigoration efforts by the number of teammates.

There are several angles you can play in getting an open workspace, and when we get to that practice we’ll look at each one. For now, just center yourself on the notion that this is more than just a dispensable practice.

Above All, Support Yourself

I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before. Folks, I am deadly serious about this. Coaches are people with a well-developed sense of empathy. The most natural thing in the world is to jump right in, to join the beleaguered team in its struggle. It seems that all they need is just to finish feature X, and if you pull a couple of 14’s it will be ready. If you could just get past that one hurdle, all will be well.

This is true, if by ‘well’ you mean ‘strapped to a bed with a lithium pump whirring in the background‘.

You absolutely must take conscious steps to avoid this fate.

  • Find someone who you can say anything to. He need not know or care about your team. Rather, he must care for you, enough to absorb and reflect your freedom of speech.
  • Schedule regular solo physical activity and keep to it. You don’t have to be a jock: walk a mile on your way to work every day, for instance. (I’m not sure ‘solo’ is really important here. I know my time has to be solo, otherwise I don’t derive the sense of calm.)
  • Leave work every day at quitting time. In this you are both modeling for the team and making sure you can sustain your energy. You need the latter, because you’re going to be imparting that energy into the team.
  • Keep a journal somewhere private. This is not a dear diary: every day at the end of the day write down any successes you had, and note what the next day’s most important coaching story is.

Kids, I am serious as a heart attack: working with a despairing team can really fucking hurt you. Give yourself permission to survive it, regardless of whether it succeeds or fails.

Okay, enough stalling.  Next up: let’s start on tactics!

One Response to “Coaching: Meta-Attacking Despair (Part 2)”

  1. Matthew Barcomb says:

    I’m pretty certain “wicked good” should be hyphenated 😉
    Seriously though, great post/series…already using some of it (no I’m not drugging my team 😉
    Thanks!

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