Brothers (and sisters) in arms

A couple weeks back, I got quite a surprise when I was informed of a reorganization within my division which was moving me, and my team, out from the senior manager we had reported to and under a new one.  You read my post last week about Ionix — it’s worth noting that my team had quite a few more questions about this move than they did about the launch of the Ionix brand.  This isn’t to say that Ionix is not a big deal, it’s just that people tend to focus on their immediate surroundings.

You shouldn’t think of that as a negative trait.  We spend 8 or more hours a day, 5 days a week, surrounded by the same people.  Changes to that environment have a much greater impact than even major changes like, say, your company being acquired.  When Data General became part of EMC a decade ago, we didn’t ask “How will they strategically make CLARiiON a part of their offering?”  We asked “Will we have to move to Hopkinton?”  (We didn’t.)

Here’s an experiment: ask your co-workers about their most memorable project.  Was it a major game-changer in the market?  Was it something that made the company above-average revenue? Probably not. It’s probably something much closer to home.  Maybe it was the project where they first learned a new technology or methodology.  Or maybe it was the time the QA department found a showstopper at the 11th hour and they stayed until 10 PM to fix it, only to find out the build machine crashed because of a power outage.  Maybe it was that executive demo when they had to pause the executable in the debugger to manually toggle a variable to get around a hardware bug.  Or maybe it was the time they worked for a year on a product only to have it canceled without explanation.

These extraordinary events can either build up or tear down a team’s energy, respect and camaraderie.  Professionalism, pride, recognition, respect for the company: these things will keep people working.  But one experience can be more powerful than the rest of those things put together, for good or ill.

As a leader, think about your team.  What experiences that they’ve shared define their time with you?  How do you create an environment where those experiences bring the team closer together in alignment with your objectives, as opposed to unifying them in apathy (or even resentment)?

Hey.  Nobody said this job was easy.