There’s a lot to be said for flexible work hours. They’re all the rage but they can be tricky when you need to collaborate on something meaningful. Maturing teams understand this and introduce “core” hours. That is, everyone -must- be in the same space for a set number of hours during the day; you get some flexibility to decide where to put the rest: on the head, or the the tail of that day. And then you have overtime….
An experienced team will undervalue overtime. The productivity gains are superficial and short-lived. The latent bugs and burnout issues which crop up down the line are way harder to solve. And that realisation, unfortunately, takes experience. Sometimes, more than you need. And sometimes, even when you have that experience, you doom yourself to repeat the same mistake under the illusion of end-of-the-world-pressure. But it’s not just the team you need to look out for; it’s also the individual within a greater team…
The output of any team is not merely the sum of individual contributions. It’s a collective output which is the combination of a number of quantifiable, but difficult-to-measure, actions: hallway conversations, peer pressure dynamics, inter-personal relationships, email:work ratios, extra-office activities… and on and on. For the most part though, a team result requires that the team move together at the same pace. Which is why they can either be really funky, or really frustrating, depending on your own personality.
So when you have one individual burning faster and more than the average pace of the team, you need to be cautious. Yes, leaders will put in more than normal: that’s what gives the team acceleration; impetus; momentum; drive. You have to start somewhere, sometime. But at some point, everybody should work roughly at the same pace. I.e. given a particular skillset and competence, the task should be completed by two different individuals on the team within the same business delivery time frame.
What happens when one cog spins more than the rest? For a start, that project plan (which you mostly ignore) gets even more muddled. The expectation for delivery timeframe changes (not just for current workload, but for future reference too). The inter-personal dynamics change (competition). The path of least resistance shifts and the workload tips in favour of the “Doer of More”. The rest slack off and you have this horrible elastic stretch in your execution plan. It will snap. 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time, it also snaps.
Now, you have to stretch that elastic from time to time. A balanced and measured test of that is a good thing. Shake things up and stir the pot. It’s healthy if controlled properly. Sometimes you get an unexpected organic boost of productivity which shifts everything into a neater gear: run with it. Recognise that and facilitate it. But don’t let it run out of steam “naturally”. The human spirit is strong: just watch the finish to any massive endurance test. People will push themselves beyond what’s probable and into a state of “cannot-do-anything-for-3-weeks-until-I-am-recovered”. So unless that’s what you want to achieve, nip it in the bud. And that takes a skilled project leader.
But as a peer, you are more intimately aware of when the pace changes. You have a responsibility to highlight that and bring transparency through to the fore. That’s what standups are for, right? Talking about the technical hurdles and objective progress of a project is EASY. You can go through 100 standups without challenging yourself or anybody else. Another path of least resistance. So how about using standups to bring attention to more important matters- issues that bug you in the soul but are hard to talk about?
Again, a good leader will cut short any ad-hominem or diatribe and schedule a time and space for it to be dealt with properly. The nice thing about using the standup for that is that you have the opportunity every day to voice your concerns. You even get to sleep on it for one night, to shift your ego away from the team’s greater good, before raising it.
Balance is not something we can always achieve on our own; despite our ingrained philosophies. That’s where East and West are remarkably similar. Both focus on the individual achieving his/her own internal balance and striving for that. But there’s nothing like pitching in and helping each other achieve balance.
You’re not walking on that tightrope alone. And yes, you work hard at making sure you’re not the one that causes the fall. But help others at the same time. In the wise words of Oogway: “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it”