Thursday, April 25, 2013

Keep Your Culture Positive! [Ron Lichty]

Editors note: Ron Lichty is the co-author of Managing the Unmanagable, a book that breaks new ground on the topic of managing software engineers and programmers.  Here he discusses the effect of positive and negative comments on an engineering team.

Which is more effective to improve team performance: positive feedback or constructive criticism? a positive culture or a negative one?

The answer: both.
The real question: in what proportion?

The answer to the proportion question, from new research by Michigan doctoral student Emily Heaphy and team productivity consultant Marcial Losada:

The ratio of positive-to-negative statements is directly correlated to "strikingly different results for each performance category" of teams:
* The highest-performing teams expressed 6 positive comments for every negative one
* Medium-performing teams expressed 2 positive comments for each negative one
* Low-performing teams swung the other way, expressing almost 3 negative comments for every positive one

"…in order to predict team performance, one only has to know the ratio of positive to negative interactions…", Heaphy and Losada concluded.

Negative comments must clearly be part of the mix. Pollyannaism - positivity alone - is no answer. Teams must hold each other accountable. It's just that most of us don't want to work in a culture that swings hard negative.

What we all need to note is that the swing negative starts from a 6-to-1 positive-to-negative ratio!

Throughout our book, Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams, , we devote pages and pages to the value of praise, recognition and having fun with your teams - all key components to building a culture of positivity. "Say 'thank you' at least ten times every week," we counsel. "Never pass up an opportunity."

We knew it from our experience - we just didn't have the research to prove it.

Heaphy's and Losada's conclusion: "We need to have organizations with teams where the abundance of positivity, grounded in constructive negative feedback, can generate the state of realistic enthusiasm that can propel organizations to reach and uphold the heights of excellence."

More at

Reviewers have been comparing Ron Lichty's book, Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams, to software development classic The Mythical Man-Month. . Ron has been transforming chaos to clarity and making software development “hum” for most of his 20-plus years managing software development and product organizations, from first-level manager to VP of Engineering and VP of Products. He has been brought into organizations from startups to the Fortune 500 to solve problems like painfully slow product development, past-due estimates with no delivery in sight, challenges arising from geographically dispersed teams, productivity bridled by uncertainty, and an "order-taking mentality" from teams that should be eagerly proactive. Ron has repeatedly demonstrated that small tweaks can result in dramatic impacts to throughput, quality and customer focus. His practice includes agile transformations, creating roadmaps everyone can follow, building communication with every part of the organization, and motivating and inspiring software development teams. Ron is a mentor, a coach and a team-builder.

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