How to Motivate Your Team Through a High-Pressure Sprint

3 min read · 7 years ago


They’re not called sprints because they’re a fun run through park. When you challenge your team with a month or more of late nights, long weeks, and a request for constant innovation, you’re bound to encounter a few trip-ups. But there are some tried-and-true tactics you can use to ensure the health and happiness of your employees and make your sprints something to look forward to rather than run from.

Here’s what I learned from AirPR’s recent 45-day sprint. First and foremost:

Use Sprints Sparingly

We’ve all seen it: startups and teams working seven days a week for months on end. Productivity declines due to mental drain and so does morale. Sprints are meant to be short-term spurts, not long-term strategies. Use them correctly to leverage their strength.

When to Sprint:

  • Site or system redesigns
  • Big architectural changes
  • Initiatives that allow for scalability

Plan Ahead With Ample Time

Tell the team what’s coming a few months in advance so that your sprint doesn’t feel like a fire drill. It’ll show that you respect your employees’ private lives and that you’re willing to invest in their well being. Once you make the announcement, ask your team to send you requests for days off during that time; weddings, appointments, etc. If you’re respectful of their time, allow for exceptions as needed, and enforce a limited time-off policy after that, no one will give you a hard time when the sprint rolls around.

Hold an Open Call for Ideas

Generate buy-in by holding an open call for project ideas. During our last sprint, I asked my team for a features wish list of what they’d like to build. Their enthusiasm made me feel even more inclined to empower them with these choices. Give your employees the honor of ownership.

Set Expectations and Build a Timeline

Host a team meeting so you can set expectations for this finite amount of time. Tell them, “We’ll be working for X hours a day for X days a week in order to accomplish X goal.” Your expectations should be slightly negotiable, but stand firm when it comes to what you know your team can achieve. Once everyone’s clear on what’s expected of them, build a timeline and keep everyone up to date on how you’re stacking up as you go. (That’s part of the excitement!)

Maintain Steam and Have Fun

Keep your team motivated by giving them a look at the light at the end of the tunnel. Project updates with snacks sounds mundane, but any breaks on long days are a treat (especially when they shed light on why you’re sprinting in the first place). Award a gift certificate to whoever finds the most bugs in a limited amount of time or celebrate important milestones with an afternoon outdoors — whatever you can do to share successes periodically through the sprint.

Give What You’re Asking For

If you’re asking your team to give 150 percent, you should be giving it too. Lead the pack by example without neglecting work/life balance.

Stay Focused Under Pressure

Have a strategy for dealing with distractions. The power of saying “no” really is underestimated. Funnel the right information, respond to what you have to, and set up an in-office/out-of-office reply if it helps. Keep in mind that even if you have to cut a few projects from your plan, you’re still making progress. Progress is always an accomplishment.

If a team member can’t get to work because the subway’s down, don’t tell them to jump in a cab. Let them work from home. It’s easy to be strict when you’re enforcing a certain schedule and heavy workload, but it’s not worth risking an employee’s respect.

At the end of the sprint, host a team outing. Disconnect from your laptops, breath in some fresh air, and encourage everyone to spend time on their lives outside of the office. If you’re managing your team well, you’ll get the enthusiasm you’re after — even if there are occasional eye rolls when 9 p.m. pizza time rolls around in the office on a Tuesday night.

Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer is the co-founder and CEO of AirPR, a technology platform to increase PR performance.

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