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Heroes Are Expensive – Extinguishing the Firefighting Culture

MMS Founder

Article originally posted on InfoQ. Visit InfoQ

Sue Johnston gave a talk at the recent Agile2018 Conference in San Diego titled “Heroes Are Expensive – Extinguishing The Firefighting Culture”. She identified how to spot a hero, what leads team members and leaders to heroics, what the impact is, what we can do about it, and how we can redefine what a Hero is.

Many of us can resonate with being a Hero at work, and we can all call out one we work with as well.  Heroes are at the center of every crisis! How do you pick out a hero? Or, maybe you recognize heroics yourself? Heroes work late, and are always busy, busy, busy. They want to be at every meeting to be in the know on everything happening. Some heroes are unconscious of their heroic behaviors and others are very conscious of it.

What is the impact of heroics? At first glance, we may think heroics are needed to get things done. But, a dark side lurks causing big impacts. Heroics creates silos in organizations and with this creates a single point of failure. Often heroics demoralize others and team morale overall. It causes burn out and is not sustainable. There isn’t visibility into the real problems and therefore bandaids are used, but things really never get fixed. This is expensive for organizations! It also prevents real innovation and progress.

Many common place behaviors in leaders and others lead to heroics in teams and organizations. The biggest one is that leaders reward it. They reward it with incentives, setting the hero example, and comments made to the individual and the team. A lack of planning, unclear priorities, limited resources, poor communications and delayed decisions also contribute.

Now you are thinking, “Wow, this is my team!”

What can you do about it?

It starts with taking a look at our own behaviors and how we are part of the issue.

  • Are you rewarding heroics? or, Do you love being rewarded for heroics?
  • Focus on outcomes rather than outputs. Software is an output, an outcome is focused on what the user is trying to accomplish with the software
  • Pair up team members to share skills and knowledge
  • Move rewards from “me” to “we”, rewarding teams rather then individuals

Sue challenged the audience to redefine “hero” to mean something more healthy for individuals, teams, and the organization. The qualities of a redefined hero include:

  • Taking care of one self and then for others
  • Asking for help
  • Promoting innovation
  • Sharing and learning together with others
  • Helping build a vision with the team
  • Encourage fixing the real issues not patching problems
  • Doing things well rather than fast
  • Accepting failure as good and as learning

She ended by asking the audience is they are ready to redefine what a Hero is in yourself, your team, or your organization?

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