In this series of posts, I’m exploring the 7 marks of this essential experience of metanoia that I laid out earlier. The fifth mark of metanoia is that it grows connections to others.
To read Part I, click here.
In many respects, the invitation to meet with the business transformation team was a remarkable turn of events that Sally found both perplexing and of immense relief. As chief engineer of a small “skunk works” project, she was quite used to being ignored. Sally had become accustomed to receiving corporate attention only in the form of budget cuts and more vigorous efforts to cancel the project that had become her life’s work. She had never planned it to become that. It had just happened. And, what had also become increasingly clear to Sally was that the small, talented and committed crew that had assembled around the task of developing this product they all believed in more closely resembled a family than simply a group of co-workers.
Sally hung up the phone, and began to lift her jaw off the floor, where (it felt to her at least), it had landed thanks to the invitation she had just received from Andrew Hamer, one of the company’s senior leaders. She wondered who on her team she should reach out to and share the news with first. Should it be the chief designer, Jon, or the lead project manager, Maria? Perhaps the resident optimist, Carlos?
Based on the extensive market testing they had done, Sally and her team had been convinced for some time that they were building a winner. Their commitment to that cause and to one another was a foundation of the team’s ability to continue in the face of long odds, and in fact it was necessary, because from all other areas of the company, the resistance (even resentment) for their tiny team seemed to keep intensifying.
Over the past few years, as her team had encountered a veritable tsunami of opposition, they had grown weary of offers from elsewhere in the organization to “help” with their project. Involvement from outside of their team usually seemed to produce more resistance and obstacles than real assistance. Sally knew she was not the only member of the team who felt that they somehow needed to bypass the senior management in their line of business, because the launch of their product would mean almost certain negative impact on short-term sales of the other core products in the unit. The fact was, the product they were building was revolutionary, but it represented a significant threat to cannibalize what had for several generations delivered tidy, almost monopolistic returns to the company’s shareholders. But, despite the odds, they kept working.
Sally, and indeed the whole team, had begun to act as a protective unit not just for the product they all believed in, but for one another, too. The running joke amongst them was that the existing product set had begun to feel like a garden at the tail end of its season, and they were protecting and stewarding the one sprout that held promise for next season. What remained unspoken was the fact that each of their own “next seasons” would be inextricably tied together. Without the risk they were each choosing to accept and the contribution they each needed to make, their project – and likely their career prospects with it – would be relegated to the dustbin of corporate history.
Sally was cautious because she was deeply committed to her team and to a product insight that they just couldn’t ignore. Over time, that point of view had gripped them each so tightly that it seemed to set them apart from everyone else at the company. That perspective, as well as the mounting pressure to succeed caused by each passing day of effort and the knowledge that the market window would not stay open indefinitely seemed to draw them together like a small tribe.
Now, Andrew, one of the few senior leaders who had expressed some belief in the potential of the product they were working on, had just invited their little project to sit at the heart of a wider effort to re-think the way the business would be run and managed. Andrew and his team’s work was sponsored from the top and offered the kind of support and executive encouragement for which Sally had hardly dared to dream. It was a most tempting offer after such a long time of discouragement and opposition.
“Perhaps this is the sliver of daylight we’ve needed, but feared would never arrive,” she thought to herself. But experience also told her to beware of this kind of intervention from the upper levels because it could crush the product and her excellent team in a heartbeat. It was a breathtaking opportunity, and yet the notoriety it would bring if they accepted was like a knife’s edge – success would be amplified, but if anything went sideways it could also spell instantaneous collapse for her team and the product.
Sally knew that this opportunity and the way the team would respond was a choice that would define people’s careers—people she knew well and cared deeply about—like Jon, Maria, and Carlos. She knew that they, and the rest of the team with them, would have to live with the consequences of this choice for a long time to come.
Andrew’s invitation allowed only a few days of consideration at most, but Sally was certain of one thing: it wasn’t really her call to make – the relationships that had carried the team this far meant that a such a pivotal choice could only be made together.