How to deal, or not, with the baggage of the past

Monday came and went. I'm told that's a good thing.

Our team meeting was bitter-sweet. On

one hand we got to go over everything going on and the activities

immediate ramifications within our environment. On the other, it

underscored my senior resource's need to take extended leave for

medical reasons. I divvied out his work today, something which made

me step sit back a bit. I had counted, even hoped, that he would

have a chance to work on these things.

I don't think it will come as a shock

to anyone that my current team came with baggage. Every team does,

even the ones you build from the ground up. Each individual member

of a team comes with “baggage”; the group as a whole builds up

even more. Heck, if you pick one person out of a crowd, isolate him

from his support mechanisms, and beat him up with reactive work,

you've pretty much created a whole heaping truckload of baggage on


The question for me now is, what do I

do with it? Tempting as it might be to say “suck it up,

buttercup”, that's neither fair nor right. What I just referred to

as baggage represents the accumulated emotion, energy, adaptation,

and hopes of professionals who honestly did the best they could with

what they felt they had to work with.

So, where do we start with the

unloading process? Julius Caesar had it easy. He could dump the

Legion's baggage by the side of the road. I don't have that option.

As a leader I need to help these folks not only hold their legitimate

grievances at bay but also set aside the issues arisen out of their

situation. As a manager I have to establish clear boundaries, unless

I'm violating some crusty bit of history for a reason, and those

boundaries do not always fall where my team would like them to.

Legitimate grievances strike me as the

most difficult part of the equation. It's one thing to sit and

listen to someone vent. It's another to sit and listen to them

rattle on and on about how they would like to do things. When they

complain about things you know are wrong, though, and that you know

inappropriately impact their lives, what do you say? What do you do

when you share their trouble and the sense of powerlessness which

comes with it?

I can offer platitudes. I can listen,

though that rarely helps people in IT. Most of the people worth

hiring are either thinkers or actors; they don't like to sit around

waiting for other people to solve their problems. I can agree with

them and turn them lose, knowing they will fail, knowing that they

know I know they will fail...

I've never found the solutions above

terribly effective, despite the recommendations of managers and

management books alike. The “solution” involving turning the

problem around doesn't always work well either, since they know we

will not implement the changes they come up with. Or rather, I

should say the changes may not make it very far in the organization;

I'm generally inclined to give just about anything a try.

What I am trying, though, is refocusing

people away from the issues and towards the people, process, and

technology problems endemic to the environment. It's easy to say “I

can solve this set of incidents by resolving this known issue”.

Heck, it's even true. The question, though, is how do we address the

problem underlying the issue? How do we make it so that each stage

of the situation (incident, issue, and problem) all receive their due

diligence? Who is responsible for each stage, who is responsible for

the oversight, and who makes sure the problem resolutions actually

resolve the problems rather than create more?

This also leads me to another question

– where does my responsibility for helping people unload their

baggage stop? At what point do I have the right, the gall, or the

power to just say “you know, do your job” and make it stick? AT

what point does playing by the rules of the situation become as much

baggage as anything else?

Ah well. More questions than answers

this time. I'm told that's a normal phase. At some point the

numbing will set in and I'll become a much less worried person.

I'll let you know if I come up with anything brilliant between now and Friday.

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