We’ve all had them…those fellow employees who just suck the life out of any team, department or company that they are associated with.
However, it can be difficult as a lead or manager to figure out whois the poison pill in a team because most of the time, employees will openly bitch about other employees only within their circle and they rarely include management in their bitchfests for fear of being seen as complainers. Because of that, we see the morale problem, but we have problems isolating the cause.
So how do we detect the problem people and once we do, how to we correct the problem?
Hopefully, you’ve been able to maintain a decent level of communication and trust with your testers. If you have, the easiest way is just to pull them aside one by one and talk to them. Start by asking about who is doing a really good job in their department, then segue into asking them if there have been any personality clashes in their department. Assure them that their feedback is confidential. You’ll usually see a pattern start to emerge around the poison in your midst.
The problem then becomes diagnosis. You know who it is, but what kind of poison is it? There are generally four types: incompetent, unmotivated, emotional black holes, and asshole. Once you know the type of poison, you can start working on a way to manage the poison out of the department.
Incompetent testers are the easiest to handle. Create performance goals, mentor them, and if they either can’t meet their goals, can’t accept the guidance they are provided or are still morale killers, it’s time for them to move on.
Unmotivated testers are a bit more difficult because you have to find out why they aren’t motivated. Is it general project ennui? Is it lack of advancement opportunities? Is it the fact that after being a tester for five years he/she is still making less than any entry level programmer? The causes behind lack of motivation are as varied as the bugs that get filed. There may be times when the best thing to do is to actively help your tester find a position with another division or company. As much as it pains you to lose that expertise, the cost to your other testers by keeping them is far higher.
Emotional black holes are people who have problems in their personal lives that are disrupting the team. It isn’t always their fault. They could be having medical issues, debt issues, family problems, etc. You can’t correct their external problems, but you can try to be flexible by giving them time to try to correct them. Allow them flex time or additional make-up time within reason so that they can handle the issues or find ways to leave the issues at home. The nice thing is that just working with them tends to raise department morale because people see that you aren’t an unfeeling monster. Everyone is going to have problems, and it makes people feel better knowing that if they have a problem as well, you’ll work with them on it. Admittedly, there are limits to what you can do and you should lay those limits out. You should also set a time limit based on what the issue is for it to be handled.
Finally, you’ve got the assholes. QA tends to get more than their fair share simply because since the role of QA is to deliver bad news, you will inevitably get some people who enjoy it a bit too much. These people not only affect morale within your department, but affect the department’s standing with other departments. There are no easy ways to handle dealing with an asshole, so you may as well be blunt. Tell them that what they are doing is wrong, explain why it is wrong, and tell them that if the behavior continues, they will be immediately dismissed. At this point, it doesn’t matter if they are your best performer or not…assholes bring down the productivity of everyone they touch and must be dealt with appropriately. At this point, one of three things will happen. Either they won’t change and will be terminated, will quit, or they will make an effort to change. If they are making an effort to change, work with them…nobody changes overnight. Also do checkups with people who brought up the issues in your early meetings to see how the changes are being received.
Managing testers is hard. Any time that the QA dichotomy of logic and emotion collide, there is bound to be friction. Working to minimize that friction may not seem like the most effective use of your time, but if keeping your testers happy and healthy isn’t a worthwhile goal for you, what are you doing managing in the first place?