Trust your team

In American restaurants, gratuity is not included in menu prices. It is left up to the patrons to leave what they think was deserved – 18-20% is standard these days. So, I experience a vague irritation whenever I see “gratuity included for parties of X or more” on an American restaurant menu. It smacks of a lack of trust in me to treat the server with the respect they deserve. I assume that policies like this spur from being wronged in the past. I understand that thinking and know that it happens everywhere, though its not always as obvious.

We take away our trust from people when we have incurred a significant cost of some kind. It is an emotional equation. Have you ever had a project at work where a team didn’t deliver on time? How did the next project go? Often, the “wronged party” will take a quick glance back at the unfortunate situation, make a quick assessment, and implement policies and constraints to avoid the issue in the future.  However, those policies and constraints don’t apply to just the original “bad actors” but now apply to all potential bad actors they deal with.

What the “wronged party” doesn’t realize is that they can be costing themselves value in the long run. Going back to the restaurant example: if I had a gratuity pre-printed on my bill for 18%, yet the service was so stellar that I would have given 20% or more, it doesn’t matter. You’ve set an expectation, you’ve put boundaries in my way to give you the higher gratuity you deserve, and you’re going to get no more than what you ask for in a vast majority of cases.

Imagine two teams starting to work together on a large program of work.  The requesting team insists that they need one big bang delivery. Opportunities to minimize risk and maximize learning with frequent feedback loops are discarded. The resulting product is “ok” but not great. There were a few fires at launch, but the teams put on their firefighter hats and took care of them. User response was mixed and executives questioned why it took so much time and money for a mediocre result. They resolve to be more careful with their budget allocation in the future, especially with this team.

Now, why did the requesting team insist on one big bang delivery in the first place? It took them several years of lobbying for this sorely-needed project to get the budget they needed. They were afraid that their access to budget and people would be cut off early if they delivered something before everything is finished. Ironic, isn’t it? Now it will be as hard, or harder, for them to get the budget for any future work. They may have actually created the very thing they were afraid of.

All too often, poorly conceived rules created from fear go on to create conditions for more failure. Before you make any new rules, know why you are making rules and make sure that you have thought all the way to the end to know how they will help you achieve success. Question your reasoning. Research and see if that helps others in your situation. Experiment at a small scale before taking on massive risk with new rules. Even better, work with the project team as a whole, state the fear and let everyone participate in how to prevent it from becoming a reality. Trust breeds cooperation which produces outcomes better than you might have wished for.