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I'm on a small scrum team at a software development company. I've noticed that all of us, including myself, tend to speak and think in a very negative way.

Just some examples; please don't focus too much on the specifics of my examples.

  • that feature is too big
  • we don't have enough details to get started
  • this would be easier if we had "x"

these all could easily be rephrased into positive and constructive statements/actionable items

  • let's meet to break down this feature
  • let's meet with the stakeholder and get some more details
  • What are the steps to get "x" installed at our office? it will improve our processes and make us more productive

How do you go about getting a team mentality shift? the negativity is starting to affect everyone on the team

  • Make them read this. A lot of startups do that, and it does help :) – Dawny33 Jan 27 '16 at 16:23
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    Is there actually any problem with the negativity? This may just be an, at it's core, natural friendly dynamic and forcing positivity may not be appreciated. My boss used to think I hated the person I actually work best with, because we shared a bond of what I'm going to call "openness" and "mutual respect" that wasn't obvious to an outsider. – Nathan Cooper Jan 27 '16 at 19:35
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    It sounds like you want to skip the acknowledgment of problems and just start with a strategy to find a solution. Is the problem everyone complains so much they never get around to doing anything about it? I'm with @NathanCooper, what are the consequences of the negativity and maybe you should address those? – user8365 Jan 27 '16 at 19:49
  • Thanks for the re-edit Joe. My edit screen is showing super wonky today. – Myles Jan 27 '16 at 22:39
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    @JeffO - I agree - how can you develop solutions if you don't identify and prioritise the problems that need solving first – HorusKol Jan 27 '16 at 22:48
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I think you've pretty much made that first most important step: realizing that you're being overly negative, and deciding to actually change that about yourself.

You may wish to to communicate this goal to the rest of your team and get them on board with changing that about yourselves, because otherwise you risk getting frustrated when you try to be Mr. Optimist, and everyone else shuts you right down. However, if you think they'll get offended if you take this approach then you simply have to commit to becoming the office cheerleader.

The next time a daunting project comes up try to take charge of the conversation and challenge people to think outside the box, and be creative rather than give up:

"That feature is too big"

You: So guys, how could we break that up into more manageable chunks? Could we slowly build it behind the scenes, create duplicates of some methods, and then eventually just go live? If our lives depended on it, how would we do this? Best idea gets a beer on me at lunch on Friday!

(alternatively: let's come up with a solution, and if we do, i'll bring in donuts tomorrow morning!, etc.)

"We don't have enough details to get started"

You: I'll get a meeting set up and get more information. In the mean time though, how do other applications/websites/etc. implement this sort of feature? What sort of things should I ask them about in the meeting? Let's come up with a list of possible features and functionality so that I know how to steer the conversation.

Again, get them thinking about a solution instead of simply giving up.

"This would be easier if we had "x""

You: Yea, it would be, but since we don't have it, how could we MacGyver some similar functionality? Who's gonna be the MacGyver of the hour?

Just try to inspire them and get a little bit of a challenge going.

You may have noticed I'm not exactly a behavioral psychologist. I would suggest Googling team building exercises and other things like that - I'm certain you'll find a lot of resources relating to this topic.

  • Tempted to downvote for all the "perks" for success being loaded with gluten :) – Amy Blankenship Jan 27 '16 at 19:02
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    @AmyBlankenship Sugar, yum! – AndreiROM Jan 27 '16 at 19:06
  • @AmyBlankenship During employee week at our company we had lots of events, including a wellness walk and a free cupcake from a well-known food truck bakery. The bakery had to scramble to bring more cupcakes. I don't know anyone who did the walk. On the other hand, there is a great gluten free chocolate chip pie recipe on chocolatecoveredkatie.com so we could have our reward and eat it too ;) – ColleenV Jan 27 '16 at 20:21
  • @ColleenV, you have no way of knowing how many people passed on the cupcake because they were gluten sensitive. – Amy Blankenship Jan 27 '16 at 21:34
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    @AmyBlankenship I'm sure we have a number of folks that have dietary restrictions that would cause them to pass on food they didn't make themselves. My point was simply that you have to give folks something they perceive as a reward. If your team has a lot of health conscious folks on it, maybe your rewards look different. Most the teams I've been on want those "sometimes" foods. On the other hand, you do bring up the point that food isn't the most inclusive reward you could offer. – ColleenV Jan 28 '16 at 2:13
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I have been in teams like this, the best way I have found is to make a concious decision to be positive myself. Once you make that mental shift it becomes a habit and has two effects. (the habit sticks with you throughout your career and keeps benefiting you)

Firstly your own outlook improves and you tend to walk around smiling, the bigger the difficulties the bigger the smile which has nothing but positive results for you personally. This gets noticed and you create a very good reputation for yourself as the person who keeps their head when the chips are down.

Secondly it rubs off on others, and uplifts the whole team. Particularly when they're dealing with you, they become solution focused, they will want to be working on a problem with someone who thinks it's easily solveable. I have noticed this mood shift when I get involved many times.

I don't worry about others attitudes, I let them change themselves, I'm not their babysitter. They can either be part of the solution in which case great, or they can continue to be part of the problem, in which case they just make me look good.

You can't force a mental outlook change on others, but you can influence it by how you yourself behave.

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Look for root causes and be prepared for the idea that solving them completely may be above your pay grade.

Use something like 5 Whys to see what's really eating your team. If there are fundamental problems (layoffs in your company, etc.) then addressing symptoms / cheerleading isn't going to work.

From your examples it may be something like a mismatch between management expectations and team capacity. If so, ask a 2nd question here with more details about your particular situation.

  • The 5 why's looks like something I'll look into. it's not above anyone's pay grade to try and improve the teams productivity. We've never had a layoff. It's just the team includes very intelligent individuals who tend to be very cynical including myself. – Mr. Manager Jan 27 '16 at 15:08
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Throwing a bunch of people in a room to yack about problems most of them have nothing to do with is not a "team".

Most software developers work on particular problems to which they have been assigned. It's not really a "team" activity. This isn't football (or rugby, lol). Trying to inject a fake team sense by having "scrums" just wastes people time. Did it ever occur to you that some people don't like being on "teams" or being forced to interact with other people?

What I have observed in "scrums" is that the busybodies, often the lower productivity people or "analysts", stand around complaining about random stuff which is usually irrelevant to 90% of the people in the room, while the productive people stand around saying nothing while thinking to themselves "I hope this is over soon, so I can get back to work."

If you want to boost morale:

  • stop holding meetings

  • send spec emails to each person, so they know EXACTLY what they need to do

  • stop by offices periodically and give personal attention to each worker to find out about any problems and two-man it to solve them

Following these 3 simple steps will cause morale and productivity to skyrocket.

  • What evidence do you have other than your own personal bias that stopping face-to-face communication among the folks working on a project improves productivity and morale? Some (actually most of the ones I know) people actually like interacting with other people. Maybe the real solution here is not to stop having the meetings, but to stop inviting certain people to them. – ColleenV Jan 27 '16 at 19:37
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    Nope, your guess about me is completely wrong. I was going to add "much like your answer", although that wouldn't be fair because there is some truth that meeting too much is bad for both morale and productivity. There's no indication in the question that that is the problem though. You seem to assign a lot of weight to opinions. I find objective measures and facts more interesting. A number of case studies conclude that certain people do better if information is communicated to them verbally rather than in written form (and vice versa), so any approach should be tailored to the team. – ColleenV Jan 27 '16 at 21:05
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    How ironic a question about being positive receives a very negatively and cynically written answer. – Mr. Manager Feb 5 '16 at 13:40

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