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When The Team is Scared

The other day I talked about the Big Scary Story, but sometimes it’s not the story that’s scary or even broken. The team is scared.

How do you stop a team from being scared of a problem? How do you get them into a state where they feel ready to tackle a big story (which may or may not be scary)?

If your team is scared, then the biggest problem with your team is undoubtedly you. You need to start leading your team in a way that makes them feel that anything is possible.

How can you do that? Well for starters give them a break, some time off the hard stuff, some time away.

Secondly, show them that you trust them. Spend some time with all the individuals in the team to understand their approach, their strong suit, their fears, and their thoughts on how things are going. Be honest.

Thirdly, give them time and space to come back to a situation where they feel that they can engage. How long this is depends on how damaged they are from previous work. If it’s been years of different managers, all pushing the same message, then it might take months or even years to rebuild trust and faith. If its relatively new and recent hurt, then it might only take a week or so. I’ve seen both situations.

Fourthly, when they decide they are ready, make sure you are ready to back them and their individual ways of working with everything you have.

So, the four stages to fixing your broken team:

  1. Give Them a Break
  2. Show You Understand Them
  3. Give Them Time and Space
  4. Back Them in Everything They Do

This is not something you can achieve overnight.

Trust is easily lost, hard to regain and change starts with taking a look at your own behaviour. It’s your own experiences and emotions that are driving your interactions with others. So look for support around you to give you a solid understanding of your own motivations and fears and use that to shape your interactions and expectations.

Software development is supposed to be fun, right? Let’s all try to remember that.