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Dear Work Therapist - How do I draw the line between work time and party time?

Dear Work Therapist,

I have recently joined an amazing startup as a Management Trainee (Screaming in Joy!!). Lately, I have been observing that my fellow teammates have been more focused on partying and have been missing deadlines.

How do I create a "WORK-HARD PLAY-HARD" environment, considering I am significantly younger than everyone else on the team, and getting their attention is a task on its own?


A Troubled Trainee


If your team all get along with one another, and have delivered on-time, good product before, it makes me think there's something different about the project, or something has changed in their team environment. Did you just return to the office, or take on new teammates? If so, this may just be a celebration/reunion/getting to know each other thing that will settle down on its own. A time management technique like Pomodoro could help them focus by dedicating specific (bigger) chunks of time to work and specific (smaller) chunks to not-work.

If that's not the case, is there a reason they're not excited or into the project? Are there external factors like a difficult or slow to respond client or product owner? Conflicting or unclear requirements? They could be (consciously or unconsciously) looking for ways to avoid the unpleasant parts of the work or tough conversations. As a manager, those conversations may turn out to be your problem, but you can't have them unless you know you need to, and what's going on.

Otherwise, can you incentivize progress somehow? I mean, obviously enough missed deadlines is bad for the project / team / company bottom line. Pin a Zoom Happy Hour, Netflix watch party, or escape room game to achieving a certain deadline or velocity or # of story points completed? 

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Hm, I'd start with a deep dive into why they're missing deadlines. It could just be that they're playing too hard, but that could be combined with several other factors, like not knowing about the deadlines, thinking the deadlines are more flexible than they are, or not being great at managing milestones within those deadlines. And those reasons may vary from team to team or even person to person. 

Some folks are better at time management than others, and in my experience managing people through projects, you really can't communicate deadlines and timelines enough. Review it in writing, review it in meetings, and review it in yet more writing =) Lots of people are just bad at following deadlines, so if you're able to help break down milestones within those larger project deadlines, it might help them reach their targets. 

I also think many companies (especially smaller orgs) can be too casual about deadlines and long-time employees may not respect due dates because they've never had to. Lax timelines can easily be part of the "how we've always done it" culture that new leaders often have to work uphill to overcome. Make sure everyone understands why the timelines are what they are, how these timelines impact their team and business goals, and what consequences there are for bucking those dates. Good luck in your new role!

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Oooh, that last paragraph! We're small but have been growing steadily over the last few years - when there were 15 people in a room together, it was hard NOT to know exactly what was going on with every team/project/client/teammate, even through noise cancelling headphones.

We never got lazy about timelines for client deliveries, but our internal side was frequently the last priority, like "I track all my time for the week on Friday at 4" or "the meeting notes were on my whiteboard, which I have already erased" and THAT has been a monster to tidy up as we've tripled in size and workload.

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I agree with folks that missing deadlines probably has to do with communication or expectations about those deadlines, so uncovering the why is most important.

And if the team wants to play hard, they can still do that while hitting those deadlines. In fact, the motto can be "Work hard, celebrate-in-the-form-of-play hard." 


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Summer.Hogan Community Leader Jun 29, 2022

We are implementing SAFe in our IT Org and I think the process involved holds everyone on an ART accountable to deadlines. I feel that working as a team and having respect for others on the team goes a long way with trust. If you trust the people you work with and you want them to trust you, you won't want to let them down. Now, this is of course if the deadlines are properly communicated. I love using the project plan template in Confluence for these types of things! Everyone is copied and everyone knows what is expected of them so there is no ambiguity and no excuses! 

Like Viktoriya Borisova likes this
Craig Nodwell Community Leader Jul 21, 2022

Sports teams have found that bringing in a veteran can help the team stabilize.  This can also work in other professional organizations. 

It might be worth doing a retro to see if you can find out what's changed recently. You can do a broad retro to find out if it's an overall team thing, and then you can do specific project / milestone / sprint retros to find out if there's something specifically related to a chunk of work that is causing the problem. 

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this


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