Dan demands the teams start more work. And he demands they finish the work faster than the teams think they can. Even when people try to explain to Dan, he doesn't listen. “Get the work done anyway!” he yells.
As the teams proceed, they make more mistakes. After a while, multitasking catches up with them, and they suffer a deployment crisis.
Angry, Dan fires two people: The person who made the bad deployment and that person's manager.
However, the next day, someone else makes a deployment mistake. Dan fires that person and the manager, too.
Now, no one wants to deploy. Worse, everyone starts to look for a new job. Who wants to work somewhere where the senior management fires you for making a mistake—especially when you're overworked and tired?
Dan is incongruent. Specifically, Dan blames people for unintentional mistakes. Yes, he's feeling a ton of pressure, but he blames people for trying to do a good job.
In contrast, the managers and the people doing the work placate (appease) Dan.
Dan and his peers feel the pressure. With their blaming, they make sure everyone else feels the pressure, too. However, blaming doesn't create an effective culture. The teams are stretched too thin. People don't feel safe. At a time when everyone needs to pull together, people feel the pressure to protect their individual jobs.
That's why it's worth discussing the role congruence plays in your culture.
What Role Does Congruence Play in Your Culture?
I've said that culture is:
- What we can discuss.
- How we treat each other.
- What we reward (and punish).
If we put a culture lens on Dan's demands and actions, we can see Dan:
- Doesn't invite discussion—even when people tell him they can't do the work. They can't have an honest conversation about the work.
- Yells at people instead of discussing the issues.
- Worse, the punishment is extreme—firing people for a mistake.
Incongruence creates a horrible and ineffective culture.
How Congruence Works
If you look at the image in this post, there are three aspects to congruence: self, other, and context. When we balance all three, we are congruent. However, if we focus on just one or two aspects, we are not congruent.
The incongruent stances:
- Blaming: I ignore you or don’t take your needs into account. I only think about my needs and the context. Dan did this.
- Placating: I ignore myself and my needs. I only think about you and the context. When people say, “I'll try,” or say, “Okay,” even though they think there's no chance, they placate others.
- Super reasonable: We only think about the context and ignore the human beings. I hear super reasonable people say things such as, “You should be over that by now.” Or, “I've thought about this and you should be upset.” Or, “Studies say …” When we are super reasonable, we ignore the change model and that change is personal.
- Irrelevant: Ignore the people and the context. If you've ever tried to defuse a tense situation with humor or a sports reference, you might have been irrelevant. That irrelevant comment might reduce the tension, but you still need the conversation.
What do you do to manage incongruence? Embrace the organization's “messiness” and start to solve problems. That requires congruent conversations, the start of an effective culture.
Practice Congruent Conversations
If you're a leader in the organization, you've probably experienced some kind of pressure similar to Dan's. What can you do?
- Have a conversation with people you trust (or hope to trust). Engage them in problem-solving, not blaming. Dan might have asked his peers about what to do first, second, and third. Or, he might have discussed those alternatives with the managers he leads and serves.
- Choose which few projects to do and focus everyone on those.
- Choose technical excellence (not gold-plating) to make sure every release works. If you don't have automated tests now, start.
Those actions will stop making the situation worse.
However, the conversations will create a safer and more effective culture.
When people feel psychological safety to experiment and learn, they are more likely to succeed. The more the leader creates an environment of blame, the less safe people feel.
Consider the 7 principles in the Modern Management Made Easy books:
- Clarify your purpose (you, team, organization).
- Build empathy with the people who do the work.
- Build a safe environment.
- Seek outcomes and optimize for the overarching goal.
- Encourage experiments and learning.
- Catch people succeeding.
- Exercise your value-based integrity.
Those principles will help you practice congruence so you can create an effective culture.