First off an apology to all the tops/ranks/awards that have included me on their "International Women's Day" top technologists today - I've decided I won't reshare those because while it's nice to be included, women-only lists are one of the ills we must overcome. I'll always welcome, repost and be proud of any non-pay-for-play inclusion in a "top tech minds" or "top people going on and on about the importance of happy teams" but it ought to include all genders, otherwise we make the problem bigger.
There's a lot in the HumanDebt which is connected to inequality and how, despite years of lip service we haven't sorted the many many obstacles that women have in technology and while it needs solving parading one's IWD banners won't pass as action anymore.
Speaking of HumanDebt, last week I was immersed in banking at this Banking Reinassance event that had all of us FinTech influencers on the same stage and even around the same table putting the world to rights. My point of view is now so far removed from just financial services that I found myself disagreeing (at times so adamantly that they may not have liked it) with some of the titans that were in fact rather behind the curve in understanding modern technology-making practices and certainly bemused and shaky on the topic of the new paradigm of work.
Added to how banking is probably one of the industries lacking behind the most in the people conversation - with how no culture change or leadership move from command and control to servant or even focus on teaching the "harder skills" (shoutout to Paul Tevis for restarting the conversation) is happening in earnest and at scale anywhere, I was appalled by the extreme inertia and the mass of HumanDebt that grows by every call back to the office.
I was also shocked about how few banking execs were interested in taking my "Emotional Intelligence, EQ and Servant Leadership" masterclass which would have put them ahead of all the curves at the end of two hours of condensed knowledge and new skills acquisition but that, it seems, was not a need they perceived, surely they are just amazing on these topics.
But I was asked if things move much faster in the "Proper Tech and Agile community in other industries" when it comes to teams and culture and while I offered a resounding "yes of course" the journalist asking me pointed out a Medium article I had written in 2020. You can find it here but in essence, it revolves around these lines:
"On paper, Agile teams are best suited for what we all have to face now. If not already remote or distributed, then most prepared to become so without too much faff and fuss. Added to that, existing Agile ceremonies are oftentimes already online and every part of the work is digital. Better news still, no one is thinking it’s a fringe joke some teams insist on anymore or if they do, it isn’t evident as the nay-sayers have thankfully been removed from sight.
Except for two insidious facts. One practical and perhaps solvable — data and feedback and one theoretical and much harder to sort out — morale/low mental state/level of emotional engagement. These two have the potential of transforming teams that were truly Agile at heart and turn them into Agile-by-numbers. To roll back years of work on a new way of thinking and transform it into a mechanical way of working. Turn it from the spirit of building amazing things into a mere process and what a tragedy that would be!
The reason I said it was perhaps solvable is that I think it’s time for Agile teams to flex their autonomous muscle and truly take control of regaining or even designing their own culture if the enterprise is failing them.
The second one is far harder to solve for: Morale. Or really, the difficulty of tapping into the resources of passion we all have. It’s undoubtedly a horrible time for everyone in so many ways that it doesn’t bare re-listing them all. What that means though is that we are collectively more stressed, less open, weary, grieving, tired beyond belief and a little dumber.
If your job is balancing numbers on a spreadsheet it probably doesn’t matter much if you’re run down and ran out of any reserve of enthusiasm for what you’re doing for the time being. There’s a temptation to think that writing code should be the same thing, people should just get on with it and they oughtn’t to need to be powered by any fluffy constructs around motivation and so on. Obviously, anyone who has ever been around developers knows that’s false and what they do is oftentimes more art than science and requires them to be really creative, therefore be at their best to manage that.
This isn’t about fluffy employee engagement issues but about how paralysing and performance-killing a sudden drop in Psychological Safety can be in particular for Agile teams where the need for flexibility, resilience, courage and morale are at the basis of every interaction and reflect directly into the difference between average velocity and extraordinary results."
Written in TWENTY-TWENTY-TWO. And I had to admit the needle hasn't moved as much as I had hoped when it comes to Agile teams either, no - no one did solve the data and feedback loop entirely and no one is doing the HumanWork diligently and the Psychological Safety of teams that are genuinely burned-out and at the end of a traumatic period has never become them massive priority it ought to have been.
I say "no one" but that's not true. A handful of organisations are trying. Even fewer are thriving already. And not enough are thinking around the monster transition towards Work From Anywhere, Anytime which is the only no-nonsense and non-lip-service model. I wrote a lot more about why that is on here this week if you wanted to read it but the reality is that we are unreasonably far from where we could have been collectively as a tech community by now. And perhaps we don't care about theoretical progress at this level but the worst part is that we don't care about progress at our own enterprise level and not even at our own team level.
Turning the tide on disengagement, mental health issues, lack of training on EQ, the persistence of command and control and the productivity paranoia it brings and making people feel like themselves again has never happened after all and we won't be making any performance leaps until it does. In fact, I'd wager that very soon everyone will realise they're in trouble. Wishy-washy "hybrid" models will make it impossible or prohibitively expensive to hire. Good people are already leaving the ships they had jumped on during the Great Resignation and those who stayed put are spent and in emotional trouble.
The burnout that had commenced years ago when developers had to learn at speed while writing code at speed and do so according to incomprehensible and draconic deadlines is now surfacing 10x worse. Even with the best of intentions (and often there are none of those) no one can be high performing while unwell. And no one will want to perform if tied to a desk again. Or mistreated. Or undervalued. Or micromanaged.
The only ones who can afford to keep ignoring the people topics, the sick cultures with oodles of Human Debt and the mental well-being crisis in the workplace where teams struggle with no psychological safety and individuals suffer with lack of empowerment and support, are those who plan to stop working sometime very soon so they are simply not invested in how the story ends. For those of us who intend to stay - we have to do more and if you want an idea of what's most burning I would say it is landing WHAA as a foundation.
As that article ended - Stay Safe, Stay Sane and Stay Agile.
Related: Redesigning a People-First Culture From Scratch Takes Courage, Passion, Tech and Experts