Shared Commitment

I’m back from Austria (with a side trip to Budapest — many thanks to Istvan Fay for showing us the highlights of Buda). It was a fabulous trip! I’ll be posting bits as I sort through and integrate.

I was stuck by something Diana Larsen said in her talk on self-organizing teams at the Scrum Gathering: One of the characteristics of a self-organizing team is shared commitment to a goal.

Agreed. But what happens when team members have different ideas of what “commitment” looks like? What if one team member derides another for not being committed?

Consider three team members:

Jarred comes in at 8 AM and frequently works until 9 or 10 PM. During crunch periods, he works even longer. He doesn’t waste time going out for a meal, instead he eats pizza, Doritos, and Mountain Dew at his desk.

Deena leaves the office everyday promptly at 5:25. Once in a great while she comes in on a Saturday when the office is quite and she can organize her work to get ahead of the curve.

Steve is almost always late for meetings.

So who in this group is committed, and who isn’t?

Jarred — who lives alone and finds his identity in work — looks at Deena and says, “She always leaves at 5:25, even when we’ve got a deadline or we’re working on a big problem. She’s not committed.”

Deena — who keeps a clear boundary between work time and family time– looks at Steve and says, “He’s always late. He’s not committed.”

Steve — who sometimes becomes so immersed in helping a co-worker that forgets the time — looks at Jarred and says, “He expects us all to work the same hours he does, but he doesn’t help other people. He’s not committed.”

Jarred, Deena, and Steve are each judging others from their own definition of what commitment looks like — the standard of their own behavior. But no one can assess commitment from external behavior.

Try this. Have your group brainstorm a list of what commitment looks like. Most likely, the list will be a range of behaviors, some of which contradict each other. Use the list to have a conversation what commitment means, and about how you want to work on your team.

Remember to make a generous interpretation and drop the comparisons. There are lots of ways to show commitment and shared commitment doesn’t mean that each person expresses their commitment the same way. Each of us needs to find a level of commitment that fits for us. Giving more than feel right leads to resentment sets off a spiral of imbalance between work and outside-of-work life.