Reducing Team Drift

Use informal celebrations to keep your team focused.

Mark Ovaska

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Teams don’t always work on the right thing at the right time. If feature X would benefit customers but the team is working on Z, they are working on the wrong thing.

I call this “team drift.” (I use this term instead of “scope creep” which implies helplessness — teams can absolutely solve this problem.)

On the surface, it seems as simple as, “Don’t work on Y, work on Z.” But solving adjacent problems is often necessary. When the necessary work is part of the main thing there exists a “team drift” trap. The farther the work is from the main thing, the bigger the trap.

The worst of these traps are large, multi-week initiatives. Sometimes you have to completely refactor Y to get X. Period, no negotiation.

In these situations, keeping the team focused on the main thing is critical. One tool I picked up at my last startup was the demo celebration. These mini-parties were team-wide and frequent. The outline is simple: Someone presents progress on a particularly significant bit of work. Then we celebrate both that person’s effort and the progress at large. (Claps, cheers, high-fives.)

A short Q&A session follows with one hard rule: suggestions and criticism are not allowed.

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Mark Ovaska

Serial entrepreneur and photojournalist. Husband, father, global citizen.