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When they don’t know what to do, they’ll do what they know.

My team once took on Project X, which was vital to the department’s success.

We had quite a few other projects going on, so I paused the other projects so we all could focus on it.

People were happy with this idea, and that we’d all work together to accomplish it.


But after a few weeks, some people drifted back to their old projects.

Slightly frustrated, I reminded folks, “Project X is our most important priority.”


A week later, half the team was still working on the old projects.

A bit more frustrated, I reminded people of dates, “Remember, Project X is due in 47 days.”


Another week goes by… and there’s no change. Project X is moving ahead, but slowly.

And now, the other projects are picking up speed again.


Exasperated, I asked “Why aren’t we all working on Project X? I just don’t understand!”

After a long, awkward silence, Will spoke up.

“I don’t know where to jump in on Project X. You keep saying it’s the most important, but when I don’t know what to do – I do what I know.”


Silence… except for a few other nodding heads.

See, I’d mistaken “lack of context and clarity” for “lack of motivation.”


But now, the answer was clear.

The team needed more context and clarity about Project X.

This was a problem I could tackle – so I went to work on it.

And, things got better.


But I also saw this pattern in myself.

The problems that I didn’t know how to solve often got put on a list… and forgotten.

Instead, my days were often spent doing what I knew how to do.

This gave me the intoxicating feeling of accomplishment, even if the accomplishment didn’t matter much.

But, not much really changed – and the big problems remained.


So, I guess I’m the same as Will when it comes to hard problems.

Not demotivated – but unsure where to start.

And, now I try and avoid that trap, and work to quickly get more context and clarity.


It’s your turn

How about you?

Do you see your team doing this?

And, more importantly… do you see yourself doing it?

Write me back,


About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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