Who Is Responsible for Happiness?

I was thinking about the best projects and teams I know. They work in different industries and have different customers. Some are engineering teams. Some are IT. Some are agile; some aren’t. Some are in transition.

One thing they have in common is that they are happy teams. If you asked them to show you their happiness histogram on a day-to-day basis, almost everyone is happy.

They have ups and downs, just as every team does. But, most of the time, the people on the team are happy.

How does this happen? It’s not by mistake or coincidence.

The team’s manager takes responsibility for helping the team discover their happiness.

Notice I didn’t say that the manager takes responsibility for the team’s happiness. Nope. No person can do that for another person or a team. However, a manager can create an environment in which a team can thrive. That’s what these teams have in common: managers who create great environments.

How does a manager do that?

  • The manager builds trust with each person on the team.
  • The manager gets to know each person as an individual.
  • The manager removes obstacles.
  • The manager tells the people, “I want to know if you are unhappy about something.”
  • The manager makes sure each person knows what he or she is supposed to accomplish and looks for results.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s easy to say and difficult to accomplish.

What I described is servant leadership. It means you have regular one-on-ones with the people for whom you create the environment. It means you ask people how they are doing and listen to sometimes-difficult-to-hear feedback. It means you don’t micromanage; you manage for outcomes.

Servant leadership is easy until upper management changes. One of my clients has a new VP of engineering. He doesn’t like agile. The VP demanded that they reorganize the department into functional teams, not project teams, and ordered a phase-gate approach to projects. The teams are quite upset. They were releasing with agile, and now they are not able to release the way they were before.

The middle managers are arming themselves with metrics and experiments to remove this obstacle. One manager has started a happiness chart, where people anonymously chart how they feel each day. He shows that chart to his VP and compares the chart to the previous happiness charts. His people are still there because they think their manager can make a difference.

When you have a crisis, do you retreat into command-and-control? You might be able to do that if you have sufficient trust built with the team. You might say instead, “I’m nervous I won’t know what to say when my managers want to know the status of this problem. How can you keep me in the loop and not have me micromanage you?”

Is team happiness part of your culture? Do you value it? If so, what are you doing about it?

Is anyone responsible for happiness where you work?

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