Accidental team building

When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
Stephen Covey

OSS projects have been some of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on – with challenges of multiple layers coming at you from different attack angles. But from within these environments have also come unexpected, obscure life lessons.

One example was on an international tier-one Telco project where the customer’s implementation team was completely unprepared for their first-ever OSS and I was helping a vendor to commission it for them. To make up for their own short-comings (eg a lack of any prior telco experience on their team), they’d developed a “kick the vendor” culture, some of which was warranted, some not.

One individual was particularly negative towards our team’s accomplishments (or lack of accomplishments in his eyes). But one tiny event triggered a change. In a large meeting, he was being berated by his boss for not delivering on a task they’d promised. I’d observed that he’d been trying valiantly to overcome the problem for days, albeit unsuccessfully. I stood up for him in front of his bosses and peers, acknowledged his concerted efforts and offered to help resolve a problem that was clearly on the customer’s side of the responsibility fence.

It wasn’t an attempt to win points. It was just the right thing to do. However, I was shocked by what happened next. His negativity towards our team ceased in the days that followed and the rest of his team soon followed suit. Exactly as Stephen Covey indicated in his quote above, their defensive energy went down, and positive energy replaced it (as did our team’s towards them in response). Creativity and joint delivery efforts improved significantly.

One small show of empathy changed a project culture. A decade later and I’m still bemused by it, but I guess it showed the power empathy can have…. Still didn’t save the multi-year project but that’s a story for another day. 🙂

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