Here you are—leading a team. You see problems, inefficiencies in how work is done. Clearly, there are things to change in your control.
Maybe the next project should have more thoughtful planning, or the technology needs to change. You raise these issues with your boss, directors, any leader you meet. What happens in the aftermath of these conversations?
You experience push-back. An unwillingness to change. Comfort with the status quo. You start to think:
Why won’t my boss listen?
Does anyone care about what I have to say?
I don’t think they respect my opinion.
These frustrations are natural. I’ve felt them before. Overcoming them required a change of perspective.
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How Growing a Team Killed Morale
Years ago, my team was split in two. The product and people grew large enough to necessitate two separate groups. A division like this is normal for a successful product.
The problem was who went to each team.
To one team, most of the new folks and a few familiar enough with the codebase. To the second team, all of the high performers.
You can imagine the feelings of frustration amongst the first team. I felt it, too, since I was on it. We kept asking ourselves, “Were we good enough?” or “Why are we getting these grunt-work projects?”
At this point, I was new to the company. I didn’t have a say in who went where. While acceptable, I was still responsible for the team I was on. These feelings of inadequacy were not fair. It was at this point that I decided to change my perspective.
A Change in Perspective
I realized that I couldn’t control the things outside of my team. The project roadmap, external opinions, and the current reputation are outside of my control.
The clarity came from focusing on what I CAN control.
I realized I had a lot more agency than I initially thought. Since I was new, I took advantage of my one on ones and listened. I met with everyone on the team and paid attention to their feedback. I researched the problems they were expressing. Once I built trust, I worked with the group to decide how we want to work together. We defined our standards of success. We focused internally and executed the best we could on the projects we wholly owned.
Over time, things changed. The morale of the team improved. Our reputation grew. Other leaders started asking how we worked so well together.
By focusing on what we could control, our results showed everyone else the talent of this group.
Your Superpower: Change What You Control
I tell this story to make you aware of the power you have.
We focus so much on external change – getting approval from executives, people on other teams listening to our opinions, how others see us.
When we focus on these external factors, it’s inevitable to experience disappointment, frustration, and an unwillingness to change.
What you need to do is stop concentrating on this. To enact real change, focus on what you can control.
Look at the environment around you. Who on your team trusts your opinions? Who will give feedback to improve those ideas? Who will give their time to help you implement your plans?
These are the people that you should look to when wanting to enact change. The people who trust you. The ones who see you as a leader. The realm where you have immense influence.
Yes, it’s smaller than the original space, but it will grow. Each step forward will show progress. Over time, the people that initially ignored you will start to pay attention. Your influence will expand.
Changing an organization is a long process. We all have to start somewhere.
Start with changing the environments you can control.
Changing an organization and culture is hard. It’s one of the most difficult things we do as a leader. It requires us to understand the team’s incentives – like who owns the product backlog.
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