On the “Thank God You Are Here” TV show, a famous person opens a door. Behind the door, everybody is acting out a scenario where they are waiting for an expert to arrive and save the day. “Thank God you are here, doctor, now what should we do to stop the bleeding?” It’s scary for the actor opening the door because they don’t know what is going on. They have to figure out what is happening and how they can help. For a person like me, scenarios like that are very gratifying. I love being able to help. I want to use my skills to quickly figure out what is happening and to solve problems.
In 1998 I was looking for a job and my brother suggested I try web design. So I got my first job as a Project Manager in web design. I really didn’t know much about the web so I was trying to learn quickly. In my first week somebody mentioned Active X. I asked my brother what it was and I remembered that he said it was platform specific.
The next day I was sitting at a board room table with the client and Active X was mentioned. “Yeah, but it’s platform specific.” I said. The techies nodded. Fortunately nobody asked me a follow up question because that was all I had. I like knowing the answer. As a Project Manager, that was an important part of my job.
Years later, when I started at a new job, I was eager to get my hands into one of my new projects. However, I found it difficult to deal with a woman in the meetings who was scathingly critical of me. She was very negative. She shot down any of my suggestions and seemed intent on discouraging me. “You don’t understand how difficult this project is” she would say. Why would she do that?
Now I know why. After I worked at the company for a few years, I detected a pattern. New people would be hired and asked to work on projects. However, nobody talked to the people who were already working on them. The existing team wasn’t asked if they wanted help. No credit was given for the success that had already been made. People would judge their work without asking why it was done a certain way. No attempt was made to ascertain if they felt proud of their work. What impact is there on somebody who takes pride in their work when that responsibility is taken from them without consultation? In fact, they usually weren’t even informed.
As time went on, that started happening to me. As a result, I found myself acting like the woman that I met. I didn’t want to recognise somebody else’s contribution. I was doing perfectly well before you came along, thank you very much. If I am missing something, talk to me about it. I might have a very good reason for my approach. If I’m overlooking something ask me about it. Don’t just step over me because you think it should be done a different way.
In an agile environment, the expert scenario is dangerous. Rather than being an expert, you can help the team see what they are capable of. You gently guide us in the right direction. But we aren’t looking for one person who can swoop in and save the day.
Thinking back to the Thank God You Are Here show, why are the people in the other side of the door waiting for somebody to come along and fix the problem? They are the ones who know what is going on. Why aren’t we empowering them to do something? Why doesn’t anybody ask them for suggestions? I guess it wouldn’t make good tv. It does make good work environments.
Those of us who are used to opening the door and saving the day need to learn a new way of working. We need to recognise the skills of the people we work with. This is a very different kind of skill that is hard to master. It can be done. When we do master the art of recognizing the talents of the people who work with us, do you know what they will say? Thank God you are here.