Great Achievements Involve Great Risk

Texas hold em hand

Whenever you take a small risk and see an immediate reward, you’re bound to keep testing those limits to see what you can get out of it.  This is a lesson we learn early in childhood.  We often hold it up as a mantra to inspire ourselves to keep going.  It’s a powerful motivator. A tool to be wielded carefully, as the flip side to pay off is a huge bust.  But how do you know when to hold them or fold them, as the song goes?

When pulling together a risk register to assess all of the possible factors, how often are you taking the time to analyze the risks to your team?  

“Crunch culture”, as it’s referred to in the video gaming industry, can be found in tech all over the map.  The pressure to meet unreasonable deadlines with endless scope results in several late nights where everyone is expected to pitch in to get that final release out the door.  When it’s accomplished we celebrate. If we’re lucky, we’re excited to have pulled it off and are being recognized.  The problem lies in that next big project that comes when lessons are not learned other that the team can obviously pull it off, so let’s see how much further we can go.

This isn’t that far removed from a skilled bluffer in poker.  Thing is, most people just aren’t that good at continuing to bluff others into getting what they want and if the luck of the draw isn’t with you, you can lose big.  Over time, repeated sessions of crunch sends even the most passionate team members into burnout.

You may be thinking, “but that’s not the culture here!”  Are you sure?  Are you the manager who sends emails at 2am? Do you praise others frequently and publicly for going above and beyond and putting the business first? While of course you want to thank people for their efforts, these are the kinds of cues team members understand as positioning for what is expected of them rather than deviations from the norm.  Many have worked for at least one company where these behaviors are expected and will start imposing it on themselves if you don’t otherwise correct the notion.

So what are some ways you can combat this within your own teams?  

  • If you are working on client facing projects, expectation setting and grooming scope needs to be the highest priority and first barrier to protect your team.
  • When risks become issues, look for resolutions¬† that don’t increase scope without adding capacity when possible.
  • Set clear boundaries internally to limit expected “crunch” to no more than 2 weeks every quarter.¬† If you find yourself hitting this guardrail over and over, larger problems need to be addressed with regard to scope, schedule and capacity.
  • Provide comp time immediately and insist team members take it.
  • Ensure team members are regularly taking vacation.
  • If it’s not business urgent, do not respond to communications outside of business hours and don’t start any of your own.

Great achievements can also be accomplished through thoughtful planning. You don’t have to put your team at risk to do big things.

Crystal Larsh is a strategic leader, fierce DEI advocate, and delivery professional leading global teams out of Austin, TX. She has been working in the project and product space since 2001 and has focused on organizational design and operational improvements over the last several years. She has earned an MBA in eCommerce, a Masters in Project Management, a number of certifications (NPDP, PMP, CSM), and actively pursues opportunities for growth (DEI Blueprint, SAFe SPC training, and more). She uses her education and over 20 years of experience to help bring up the next generation, particularly women in tech.

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