Leading Teams: You Can Deliver Bad News To Your Team Without Crushing Them

April 6th, 2016


By Michael Solomon

[Also on Medium]

Our job and the job of our tech consultants that we contract out to the world’s best and most innovative companies, is to shoot straight. This often requires addressing issues and problems that people would rather leave uncovered. This ability or sense of obligation to be direct, identify problems, and work collaboratively to find solutions is what separates those who build products from those who build solutions.

Allow me to explain.

Over and over, new 10x Management customers tell us about bad experiences they’ve had using “outsourced coding shops with subpar tech talent.” Most of their experiences involve wasted time and money, as well as an incomplete or unsatisfactory project outcome. We often hear, “The last team we used didn’t ask questions and didn’t push back until it was too late when there were clear problems. And at the end of the project when there were fundamental problems, they said, (and here’s the rub) we just did what you told us to do.”

Consultants worth their salt never make such statements. Catalytic consultants say things like: I want to better understand the approach you’re taking with this and the reasons why, because in my experience there may be a better way to accomplish your goals.


There are two things every consultant must do to provide project course correction:

  1. First, understand the goal. A consultant must first understand the customer’s motivations and goals and assess if the current development path is the best way to accomplish them. Sometimes there are good reasons to build something in a less than optimal way: budget, urgency, technical feasibility, etc. There are also plenty of times that this occurs without good reasons simply because no one asks the tough and potentially confrontational questions.
  2. Second, provide constructive feedback. Good consultants make their customers feel heard and supported, not belittled and criticized. However, making a customer or team feel heard and supported doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with them on an approach that may not be the best route or best solution to meet their goals. This is when a consultant uses their expertise, leadership and collaboration skills to provide concise feedback that offers alternative suggestions and solutions.


The HBR article, You Can Deliver Bad News to Your Team Without Crushing Them dives even more deeply into the importance of being direct while also being solutions focused when delivering bad news. The author Michelle Gielan, presents a functional roadmap towards uncovering the gifts to be had in the ‘bad’. It’s a must read for anyone managing teams or providing consulting services to third parties.

Our 10x contract consultants get paid not just for their high quality work, but also for their field expertise, leadership and communications skills. Good consultants should aspire for the same and customers should expect nothing less.

If you liked this article you might also like, The Emperor Writes Bad Code: Engineers Should Be Taught to Fight.