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Q&A with Gerald Weinberg on The Influence of Individual Moods on Team Working

| by Ben Linders Follow 29 Followers on Dec 11, 2014. Estimated reading time: 4 minutes |

InfoQ is researching the factors that influence the mood of teams. As team mood is an aggregation of the individual moods of team members, understanding the individual mood and how it influences team working can help to learn more about team moods.

Gerald Weinberg is the author of more than 100 books, including The Psychology of Computer Programming, Becoming a Technical Leader, Change Artistry, and the Women of Power novels (where mood plays an important part). InfoQ interviewed him about individual and team mood, influencing the mood of individuals and discussing moods in teams.

InfoQ: You mentioned that you consider the mood of individuals and teams to be a highly important topic. Can you explain why it matters?

Gerald: Suppose you compare two development organizations and find them identical in all the "logical" parameters, such as, experience, education, and age, but you find their productivity differing by a factor of ten. Chances are the difference you can find will be a different mood.

InfoQ: Can you share us your view on individual mood? What is it and how can we get insight into the mood of an individual?

Gerald: Again, mood is what differentiates otherwise identical individuals and explains most of their differences in productivity. Some people will say, no, the difference is in attitude. Well, attitude is the climate, but mood is the weather. That is, attitudes tend to change slowly if at all, while mood can change in an instant.

InfoQ: What about team mood, what are your thoughts on that?

Gerald: Team mood is a slippery concept because at any given moment, each team member may be experiencing a different mood. On the other hand, the mood of one member may have a similar effect on others, so team mood frequently follows one of the members. For example, if one team member is depressed for a while, soon others may become depressed, too.

InfoQ: Can you give some examples of possible effects of the mood of individuals on team working?

Gerald: If one member is in a bad mood, s/he may work slower than usual, causing the team to fail to reach its schedule goals. But a good mood, if it goes too far, can also cause problems. For instance, when a team member is falling in love, s/he may be so distracted that her/his error rate may go up. Or, a test might tend to be overly forgiving of questionable practices, letting them pass rather than questioning them.

InfoQ: Do you think that is ethically right to influence the mood of individuals, for instance while coaching people or acting as a change agent?

Gerald: It doesn't matter whether it's ethically right because any coach will influence the mood of a team, whether that coach is trying to influence mood or not. On the other hand, any coach's overt attempts to influence mood tend to have no effect, or even backfire and depress the team. "We don't need that rah-rah stuff."

InfoQ: What kind of interventions do you suggest to influence the mood of individuals?

Gerald: Don't try to influence mood. Just let people know by your behavior that they're entitled to have whatever emotions they have. Of course, it's easy to make interventions that worsen the mood of the team, especially management-sponsored events to "cheer them up." For instance, giving rewards to individuals for exceptional performance often leads to resentment on the part of those who do not receive awards.

InfoQ: People sometimes find it difficult to talk about their mood and feelings with their team members. Do you have some suggestions on how to help people to share their mood and discuss it in teams?

Gerald: I'm not sure that discussing mood has any useful effects, unless the major influence on mood is something happening within the team. If something within the team is negatively affecting the team's mood, then making it open for discussion can be helpful. A coach is not a psychotherapist, however, so stick to facts and avoid interpretations. Also, it's usually best not to start such a discussion with the entire team. Start with one person at a time, because that will be much easier on reluctant participants than baring their soul in front of all their teammates. If team issues emerge, then try to earn permission to bring the subject to the team as a whole by demonstrating how their mood is affecting the rest of the team.

One more point: Do not raise the issue of mood unless

  • you believe that the mood of the team is affecting performance
  • you are willing to stick with the subject until something is resolved
  • you are prepared for the discovery that YOU are the primary cause of the team's unproductive mood

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