True Grit

“Individuals high in grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure and adversity. Their passion and commitment towards the long-term objective is the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to “stay the course” amid challenges and set-backs.”

Most of my posts have played a part in a long story about a web development program, the people in and around it and a crucial overall transformation.

Last week we agreed we are done with the transformation in the sense that we are in a good enough state to switch main focus to new areas. It took two years. While erasing our large, now paid-off, tech debt board I thought about what was really the key to getting to the very pleasant state where we are today.

In his book Drive (watch the essence in the movie here), Daniel Pink defines three key factors for motivation:

Autonomy: the desire to be self-directed

Mastery: the urge to get better at stuff

Purpose: to provide a context for Autonomy and Mastery

Starting with Purpose: to set our context we have shared a clear vision: continuous delivery and “kick-ass teams”. In parallel the company has had strong cost-saving goals. Helping define and drive improvement in these areas was something for the redefined PMO.

Second, Autonomy, this was the reason for reorganising the web department.   Teams today have a clear ownership and full freedom and mandate with regards to technology and way of working. From a business perspective they are also 24/7 accountable for their applications. These things need to be in balance.

Autonomy also requires a wise strategy for building/renting products so that the ownership is true: no handovers and no monolithic enterprise solutions that you can’t change. Dependencies on third parties cause frustration.

Finally Mastery becomes so strong on team level. It drives experimenting and learning and inspires the people around you. It’s continuous process improvement, but through habits and behaviour rather than through systematic management. And when you have this in your culture, you will attract new people who are also driven by learning and sharing new stuff.

But we have had something more… and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I tried thinking we had Bob the Builder spirit (Bob: “Can we fix it?” Team: “Yes, we can!”), but the comparison felt a bit shallow. Because it really was about sticking to the hard, short-term, not-at-all-rewarding work, with a long-term goal clear in mind.

Then I came across articles and a talk about grit. And that’s it! Not experience, not expertise: but a really strong belief in what you do even when things aren’t going exactly your way.

Great teams with grit – voila 🙂


Mattie Ross crossing the river on her mission to capture her father’s killer in the movie True Grit



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