Micro events break your team

#58, Apr 30, 2024

Once upon a time, in a tech org not far away, there was a leader…

A software development manager was wondering why people on his team were performing slower than expected.

Nothing unusual had happened the last few weeks.
Everything was business as usual for him.

But people lacked the typical confidence in executing the day-to-day work.

Hi 🙂 Hari here.

/* I’m sitting in the kitchen on a cloudy Tuesday morning. It’s going to be a short week as Easter holidays are coming in Bulgaria. So, lots of easter eggs around the corner */

Today’s tale is focused on how to manage micro events so that they don’t break your team.

The image shows a girl in front of a blackboard, drawing the ups and downs of a team's development. On one axis is time and on the other is performance.

What are micro events?

Do you see the white arrows on the green chalkboard?
These arrows break your team’s performance when not handled well.

If the diagram looks familiar, it’s because it is a visualization of stages of team development by Bruce Tuckman.

/* read more about the stages in the Soft Skills Pills library or see this post from a year ago that reached 1.2 million people on LinkedIn */

The white arrows are essential for having a strong team.

Micro events are a desire to change or actual change in the team’s way of working.

A micro event will trigger the team to move into the storming or even the forming stage.

Micro events could come from within the team.
Micro events could come from external forces.
They could also be unexpected events.

Let’s see some examples:

  • a team member joins or quits the team
  • getting feedback about your product
  • someone proposes a process change
  • a bad delivery breaks the product
  • major global event (e.g. merger)
  • an unusual customer request
  • restructuring of the team
  • a new team goal

Micro events hurt clarity & performance

Think of micro events as a fog coming over a bridge.
Before the event, everything was crystal clear to everyone.

The way of working was clear.
People on your team knew what was expected of them.
People had developed skills and routines for this way of working.

But then micro events happen.

People start wondering.
They ask themselves “Do I know what I’m doing?”
They hesitate and become slower.
Team performance drops.

/* when psychological safety on the team is low, people won’t say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I need help’ in front of others; even if the climate is great, the ambiguity that arrived with micro events would require more help than usual, thus performance would drop */

How to handle micro events well

When we coach dev teams, the first thing we advise people is to notice micro events.

Micro events happen all the time.
You just have to anticipate and see them.
And to expect that performance would drop for a while.

/* if you don’t know the Canada geese example, check this article out */

What you can do as a leader is:
1) communicate that a micro event has occurred
2) overcommunicate that it’s natural for the performance to drop
3) use the 4 vulnerability phrases more often to ensure people feel safe to speak up when uncertain
4) clear any ambiguities for people (you can use the Gray Area tool)
5) be patient

Pitfall 1 – triggering too many internal micro events
I’ve seen teams changing a small aspect of their way of working.
And after the first obstacle (which is natural) – they change it again.
And then they change it again.

This is a dangerous cycle as you add so much ambiguity that people don’t know what to do any more.

Pitfall 2 – being afraid to trigger micro events
The total opposite, once leaders and people learn about micro events, they become too aware about the negative impact that they try to make things no changes at all. That’s bad if changes are necessary.

Micro events could be triggered intentionally.
You just have to be conscious about it.

/* and if things go too ambiguous and chaotic – don’t worry, read how to handle chaos in a piece Vasi wrote */

How to manage team micro events
(the checklist)

  1. Anticipate micro events and teach people on your team about their impact
  2. Identify and communicate micro events when they happen; emphasize that it’s natural for performance to drop
  3. Clear ambiguities so people get back on track and the team goes into the performance stage
  4. Be patient – it takes time for people to get back on track
  5. Be conscious – avoid the 2 pitfalls; both too many and too few micro events are bad

… and the team lived happily ever after.

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