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The Fear Factor

Let's Remove It

10/23/2013 by Lizzy Morris

How often to do you forget that you're dealing with fellow humans when a deadline is at the door? Never, Not Often, Sometimes, All the time?

There is something in us that triggers a switch in our minds that prevents us from seeing everyone else that we deal with as still part of the team. All we see is a picture of core survival, and our team members are either helping us meet the deadline or preventing us. This is when we see the "hero syndrome" awakened in lots of individuals. These team members will work all day and all night and bring it over the finish line. At what cost, one would ask, as they often end up being sick sometime after their hero flight. The team is then deprived of their expertise during core development.

What drives this behavior, what is the common denominator in the midst of all this? Fear, this simple, four-letter word that invokes different responses in different individuals. Often, from the outside, it looks like anything but that. It covers the heroes so they appear to be the dependable team members, and those who begin to flounder are to blame, to the casual observer. They are the slackers.

Here is a question: If the "hero" is able to bring it across the finish line when the deadline approaches, why couldn't he or she have worked with the team to deliver it within the desired timeline? This is not something we, as leaders, often ask, because we find ourselves repeatedly trapped in the same response path of fear.

We can't get rid of fear because it is part of the human psyche, and even the strongest of characters has some deep-rooted fear. So, Lizzy, what's your point -- we know we all have fear, but what does it have to do with Agile? Everything.

In order for the Scrum framework to be successful, it needs a team of players, and this team aims to be more and more predictable with time. This means the team members have to work in sync. Whatever issues are present will need to be done away with. This includes fear. "Deadline fear" has to be addressed at the beginning of the effort, with the product owner. The empirical process employed by Scrum facilitates problem solving, which can help remove some of the unknowns and reduce the sense of uncertainty.

The Agile principles call out to us to deal collaboratively with our fear.

Responding to change rather than following a plan, that is calling out -- deal with your fear of not always being able lock down scope. Why do we want to lock down scope? Something to do with fear of not being able to deliver.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation -- why do we have written contracts? To protect our interests from another person taking advantage of them. Isn't that a fear?

Individuals and interactions over process and tools. One of our chief tools is email -- why? It keeps a record of everything. Let's get straight to the point: It covers your butt. Why do we have to do this? Fear.

The workplace is saturated with it, so what do we do to overcome fear? We practice courage. Courage does not say fear is absent. It admits that fear is ever present, which is why there has to be the decision point made to take on courage. Openness as well -- I can tell you my fears, I can work through the root of them with you because I am practicing introspection, which starts with me before it can be pointed at you. There is a saying that when I point a finger, four are pointing back at me. Practicing transparency also allows you to be vulnerable. True team synergy will only happen when team members have learned to trust each other and be vulnerable with each other.

Traditional methods of program management and software development do not recognize the central human component issues. It is important that, as ScrumMasters and coaching professionals, we understand the fear factor that comes with the human components on each of our efforts. It becomes our responsibility to empower the team to deal with as many catalysts of fear as exist within our organization.

Until we take on the battle of defeating the fear factor that lingers among our teams, we will never be as successful or innovative as we truly desire.