The local testing meet up (#GRTesters) I'm part of had an interesting discussion this past Thursday (13 Feb, 2020). We do round table discussions a fair amount of the time, which allows a reasonably free exchange of ideas - sometimes helped by locally made wine and beer, and sometimes a nice Toscana not made locally. This is based on my notes from the conversation.
The official topic of conversation was the title of this post. It came about from a conversation a few months ago around a rather vague, but troubling prospect.
How do you get people to do a job they were "voluntold" to do which they really
don't want to doat all? People walk into a meeting with an uncertain subject, and find out for the next 6 months, or more, they will be "helping out" on a "special project" that is "really important" to the company. It will take a lot of work, probably some extra hours, to get this stuff done.
Oh, by the way, you also need to get your other work done on time, too. OK?
Perfect organizations don't have this issue. It seems
most of us don't work in perfect organizations. Threats and intimidation
tend to be counter productive. When people are put into a
position they don't really want to have, how can we get good work done
and keep some form of harmony in the working group? Is that possible?
THAT was the idea behind the discussion.
I was a tad concerned. There were folks from what are considered "high performing" local companies. I had visions of people looking at me as if I had three heads and had pasta stuck in my beard. (We were in a corner of a local Sicilian restaurant.)
Instead, people jumped in. Here is a summary of the discussion, because I found the results to be really interesting and potentially important.
To Start, "Short Term"
A couple of people jumped in with "Maybe not for 6 months, but shorter term things, a week or two, I've seen this work..." ideas.
One idea, was something like the company bringing in lunch three days a week for the duration of the effort - a week or two they had seen. One idea, which I've used in the past, was to relax "dress code" and other typical office goofyness. Jeans whenever, t-shirts instead of "collared shirts", snacks in the project room - ALL THE TIME.
For many companies, these are nothing new and a fair number do this all the time, anyway. For other companies, these little things can help ease the burden a bit.
For a longer effort, one participant (who works for an "all remote" company) said he had seen money help as a short term thing. Something like, the project finishes, quality is OK (by some definition of OK) and the people doing the work, giving up time away from friends and family to make this project happen and get their usual work done as well - THEY get a "piece of the action." They share in the bonus or incentive pay which managers or directors might normally expect.
This sent us down a tangent around "leadership" and what do "leaders" actually do. The energy seemed to be around the idea that if people have got pretty much any sense of professional reliability, they'll jump in and do the best work they can, without any special effort from bosses. Therefore, instead of the boss getting money, why not the people who actually made it happen?
Longer Term, ergo, Harder
One idea or term that kept getting bandied about, was "team." We took a bit of time to distinguish between "people who report to the same boss" and "people working together on a common effort."
If a group is really working as a team, at least part of this might be addressed. People pulled from their "real jobs" might get the support of others they normally work with to cover at least part of their non-project work.
The group working on the "special project" needs to actually work as a team, toward a common purpose. If there is a small group "telling people what to do" without explaining the purpose, or allowing the individuals to learn and understand the purpose behind the work. it is unlikely there will be a meaningful level of success.
The challenge is to encourage, coach and teach people through the learning process and keep them engaged and actively participating. Keeping people engaged takes a couple other things not noted yet...
Making it work
In the end, there are some things everyone agreed on. Among them, for this to work, people need to (at least act like) professional, adult workers doing their best possible work for their employer, while they work for them.
Teams need to be teams and actually work together - as a team - supporting each other, holding each other up with support and holding each other accountable to contribute to the best of their abilities to team success.
Without these things, not much else matters. The cool gimmicks and "motivational techniques" won't get you where you need to be. People need to do it.
That includes managers, product owners, product managers, scrum masters, project managers, and on and on, supporting the team in tangible ways, then getting out of their way to allow them to do their best work.
Thanks to those who actively participated in the conversation Sarah, Jace, Keith & Greg. They jumped right in and had no qualms explaining their views.