We tried that!

October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

So, you are sitting in a team meeting where everyone is trying to come up with ideas to improve certain aspects of team performance; for example, everyone might be pondering how to improve quality of code. You see this as a great opportunity to talk about TDD. As soon as the words “test driven development” are out of your mouth, a senior team member/manager/technical lead/<insert cynical team member’s name> says, “We tried that and it didn’t work”. You look around for support from your team members, but all of them are silent. This is a result of not getting buy-in from your team members before you proposed the idea.

Your gut reaction is to have a reasoned discussion with this person. I want to warn you – the person that made the remark wants you to engage, but not for a reasoned discussion. He wants to have an argument, well maybe not an argument, but he is defensive and will not accept any reasoned arguments. Besides, you have no one in the team that is in agreement with what you said. Also, because the way this individual responded, you should know that he is used to having everyone hear what he has to say. Any disagreement from you could result in a screaming match thus diluting from what you had proposed.

What I want to propose to you is that instead of arguing or trying to have a reasoned discussion, tell the individual that you are not completely familiar with what happened in the past, but you think that TDD (your proposal) is a very good idea. You feel that since your arrival, you have seen the team grow substantially and now might be a good time to try again. Also, say that you understand the point that was made by this individual, but you feel that with new team members and the overall maturity of the team, it may work this time. At that point, tell the individual that you would like to talk to them after the meeting to hear about the issues that the team faced previously “so when we try this again we don’t make the same mistakes”. That’s it.  Leave it at that. Don’t get sucked into any more discussion.  Whatever remarks are said to you after that last comment, just say “let’s talk after the meeting”.

In most cases, you’d want everyone in the team to participate in this discussion, but in this particular scenario, you are facing a hostile individual with a strong personality that always gets his way. Also, you don’t have buy-in from other team members. By continuing the conversation within the meeting, you give this individual a podium to discredit any idea you’ve proposed without any team member’s coming to your defense. If other team members had agreed with you, you might have had an opportunity to have a time-boxed discussion having others supporting your idea. If you are alone, realize that you haven’t gotten the buy-in necessary to affect the change you want. Get the buy-in from your team members and then approach the matter again in the next team meeting.

There is place for battles within a team but also place for calm reasoned thinking. Choose the right occasion for the conflict.

PS: This is only useful if you have not had buy-in. If you do and still don’t have support, try having the reasoned argument, you might not win the battle but you will have tried and in the process might have changed someone’s opinion. If not then try some other time.

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