I did my integrity checks over the past couple of weeks and I feel much better now.
Integrity is very important to me as a tester and as a team lead. Integrity means to me that I am in contact with myself and can acknowledge my failures and successes honestly and openly. It means that I act consistently according to my values and principles when things are going well and also when they aren’t or when I’m being criticized. I also compare my view and perspective to how others around me see things because it helps me recognize when I may be blind to my fallacies.
Retaining integrity helps me go through difficult times. Even under pressure where I feel I could break down and give in and do something that I think is wrong, integrity helps me resist. It doesn’t mean I want to be stupidly stubborn. But in my experience, whatever it is I’m made of is worth keeping together, it is worth the effort and persistence.
Why am I talking about it? As a team lead, I am aware that whatever I do and say is being monitored, evaluated and potentially emulated by my team members. Therefore, I want to always follow my principles consistently and do my best job. However, it’s equally important to be human: humans fail, so do I but I need to be open about it.
Over the last 6 months, I started feeling I haven’t done my best and that there is a discrepancy between what I set out to do and what I’m actually delivering to my team. Starting from the beginning of the year, there was a lot of pressure to deal with things that I don’t really consider my job. I’m someone who wants to help, so… I did some of it. It’s the curse of people who like to get things done and do it well: someone pragmatic just gives you more stuff to be done because hey… you can do it, right?
One may ask “don’t you know how to say “no”?”. Yes, I can say no and I did say it. It’s just I couldn’t say “no” to everything. I couldn’t fight off the constraints entirely then.
So I grew more and more irritable with myself, I felt I didn’t have as much time as I would like to work with my team. I felt trapped behind my desk. This got worse in April (see section IV in this post) and while there were other things going on, I felt like I’m not doing a great job at all. Indeed, I came to feel that I can’t do my job.
The last 1.5 months have been much better though. I’ve felt so inspired and energized after attending Let’s Test and after giving my first conference talk. I got back my self-confidence and self-belief.
And then I realized I should do my integrity check with each of my team members.
In our company, we have quarterly reviews. I guess some take them as formalities that have to be over and done with. I take them as opportunities to have good long conversation about what has been going on, where everyone’s at and what we want to do next. It’s like calibrating. So I had to calibrate myself.
The integrity check for me was fairly simple. I explained my perspective, how the past months looked like to me and how I felt about it. I then asked if they saw the same things as I did and do they agree with my assessment.
It felt so good to get it off my chest. And I felt uplifted by their responses. They said they saw and understood that there was a lot going on. So they adapted and dealt with it – found more ways to solve the problems together as a team to not pull me away with minor things. A few noted that I hadn’t been distributing as much information about the “general stuff that’s going on” and I recognized this as an accurate statement. I had been feeling overwhelmed with the information I had to absorb that I just didn’t think of passing it on as much as I used to. A few pointed out some other things that they thought could be done better and I agreed to these things.
To my surprise, nobody said they felt like I had abandoned them or not talked to them enough. I really was ready for someone saying that “Helena, I can well remember the days we didn’t exchange a word.”
What to make of it?
I – Review Benchmarks
I should revisit my principles and aspirations, and do a reality check. Since I seemed to feel much worse about the whole thing than they did, it’s probably the case that I need to revise my own goals. So I need to apply critical thinking to make sure I’m not driving myself crazy without a good reason. Also, I shouldn’t use my imagination so much… just do a quick check instead of mulling over things too much.
II – Implement one-on-ones
I should probably do more frequent but less time-consuming check-ins with them. The quarterly reviews are one-on-ones too but only every 3 months. Potentially, one-on-ones help me do the integrity checks and calibrating at shorter intervals and I won’t get stuck/lost myself. I haven’t implemented the one-on-ones that Johanna Rothman talked about in her Let’s Test keynote. I’ve been thinking about it but I think now’s the time to implement them.
III – Know the Dynamics
There’s this interesting dynamics: if the leader pulls away (for whatever reason), teams have to handle it in some way. My team handled it by huddling closer together. I’m glad they did. Because I can see that it’s also possible the team will fall apart as people would just try to survive. I don’t want to go into too much detail here but the way they handle things tells me it is driven by values and mentality I have wanted to foster. Team spirit can go along with independence in the team. It means that everyone is capable of independently solving problems but they know when to switch to team approach and ask for help from others (provided that they like to work together).
There’s another factor that I could write another blog post about but I’ll give you a brief summary. My team consists of both testers and technical writers. It used to be that testers tested the new functionality and once they were done, technical writers wrote the end-user documentation for it. But we changed this a few months ago: now testers and tech writers start working on a new assignment together. It means they badger the programmer together, discuss stuff, throw ideas back and forth, and finish almost at the same time (sometimes tech writers finish the task even earlier). In other words, they complement each other. I asked about the change and I got overwhelmingly positive feedback.
Really, I don’t have a detailed overview of HOW they make it work. When we decided to make the change, I said that I won’t be involved at all, they should just make it work. They have and they like it. I’m glad they like it, I’ll just let them work.
So I think this change has had an impact on better collaboration which helps the team to grow and become more self-reliable.
Truly, my goal is that they can work efficiently without me.
IV – It works both ways
As a team lead, I try to find ways how everyone can grow, challenge everyone individually to overcome their fears or push them to do things they don’t think they can do. But it works the other way around, too. They can push me along, pull me out of my swap (without them even knowing it sometimes…) and lift me up, inspire me. But without having open conversations it wouldn’t happen. Without the readiness to have one’s integrity checked, it wouldn’t happen.
I want to have the door open, so they can give feedback and say how things are, no bullshit (one of them said they really appreciate this “out in the open” atmosphere in our team).
So, doctor’s orders… I’m going to keep doing my integrity checks because it is so much better to know how things are instead of not knowing. And I’m very thankful to my team for doing what they did.