How to Make a Cranky Team Happy

When I got off the train for work yesterday, I was already on the verge of tears with anger. I had spent the ride rolling work frustrations around in my head, and it had only made things worse. I couldn’t pinpoint the problems, and my entire job just felt impossible.

But I’ve learned a few things as a trial-by-fire project manager, and one is that my attitude affects my team’s ability to work. So I made the call: it’s better to show up late than to show up angry. I went to Target instead of the office, and called them to say I had errands to run.

At Target, I picked out a new notebook and a good pen. My plan was to go from there to a cafe and write until my situation looked less like an amorphous blob of insurmountable problems and more like a plan to get through it. On my way to the checkout line, though, I passed something bright that caught my eye.

They were only four-for-a-dollar.

I just couldn’t resist…

The cafe writing was perfect. I got it all on paper: I can’t do the job I’m expected to do because of this and this. I do not have the power to fix these things. I can ask for help, and I can offer suggestions, but ultimately, I get to hand this mess to my bosses and tell them that I can only fulfill a portion of my role until they resolve it.

The verge-of-tears was lifted.

I walked into the office and found everyone in a meeting, discussing the very things I was going to bring up as not-my-mess. They were engaged in a heated debate, and they were getting to the bottom of it. Despite the hard energy of the conversation, I was grinning. They get it. I don’t even have to ask for help.

The anger was lifted.

Two o’clock rolled around, and we had our Production Meeting. This is historically the most stressful meeting of the week, because it’s where we see exactly how much more we need to do than we actually have time to accomplish. It also doesn’t help when it’s 90 degrees and the air conditioning is broken. But I was reenergized and in problem-solving mode, and we managed to fit a heckuvalot more square pegs into round holes than traditional physics allows. At 2:55, when the lists were wrapping up, I quietly excused myself to the ladies’ room… where I had stashed my four-for-a-dollar Secret Weapons.

Reentering the meeting room, I found our CEO still describing production philosophies, and our lead programmer still listing spec requirements. I threw a trashbag full of loaded squirtguns down onto the table, pulled out the neon green one, and squirted our CEO in the face.

He looked confused and annoyed.

I handed him a squirt gun and shot him again, this time in the chest. He held his glare. Seeking help, I looked around the room at the rest of my team, and squirted every single one of them, one by one, being careful to avoid laptops.

They all looked confused and annoyed.

I refused to accept their response, and handed out more squirt guns. “I think we’ve covered everything we need to cover for the scope of this meeting. And now, I challenge all of you to a duel.”

Slowly, in unison, they each touched their guns, tested the triggers, aimed them at me, and started shooting. And shooting. And shooting. And they were standing up. And they were aiming for the face. And I was backing out of the office. And they were chasing me. And ohdearlord I was under attack. And this. was. war.

Ducking and rolling and ambushing and hiding in doorways and grabbing two guns and shooting and refilling and screaming and laughing and tag-teaming and laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing…

We were soaked and hyperventilating, and it was the most comfortable we’d felt all day. We staged impromptu rematches for the rest of the afternoon.

When things were starting to wrap up at five o’clock, our lead programmer, who rarely drinks, announced that he wanted a beer. I wandered into the Boss Office, put on my cute-girl face, and said sweetly, “Excuse me? Can we please have 20 dollars for beer?” They gave us thirty. We came back with six-packs of beer and root beer,

and we laughed, together, until our work was finally done.

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5 Responses to “How to Make a Cranky Team Happy”

  1. Nelz Says:

    Ooooh, daring!

    After the first squirt to the CEO, I probably would have been scared into stopping. I would’ve figured that he’d instantly get it, or not… It sounds like your persistence paid off! WELL DONE!

  2. Kung Foodie Kat Says:

    Bwaahhahah….I challenge you to a duel…awsomeness!

  3. Scientific Ink » links for 2007-09-25 - not particularly objective musings on odds and ends - Dunrie Greiling, Ann Arbor, MI 48103 Says:

    […] Dopp Juice » Blog Archive » How to Make a Cranky Team Happy But I’ve learned a few things as a trial-by-fire project manager, and one is that my attitude affects my team’s ability to work. So I made the call: it’s better to show up late than to show up angry. (tags: happiness projectmanagement attitude team work collaboration management fun) […]

  4. bankWaiduab Says:

    I don’t even know,fellow!) continued to write in the same vein, it is interesting people!

  5. Serggg Says:

    I follow him to serve my turn upon him:we cannot all be masters, nor all masters.Cannot be truly follow’d.