• Toby Sinclair

The Four Fatal Fears of Teams | Advice for Managers

Updated: Sep 20



As a team manager, I’m always curious about how to create the right environment for teams to succeed. Increasingly, elite sports teams have been sparking my inspiration.


Eddie Jones, England International Rugby Coach, recently highlighted in his latest book the work of Frank Dick. A former director of coaching for British Athletics. Frank led the GB team into a golden era, coaching several elite athletes such as Daley Thompson and Sebastian Coe.


In the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Frank worked with the England Rugby Management Team. He coached the England Rugby Team on improving team leadership capabilities.


Frank focused on what he calls the “Four Fatal Team Fears”:

  1. Making a mistake

  2. Losing

  3. Criticism

  4. Rejection


These Fears are very common in all teams including Agile Software Development Teams. In some environments, these fears can be very present


  • Developers can be fearful of introducing bugs into production.

  • Teams can be fearful of introducing features that customers hate, essentially losing.

  • Junior developers can fear criticism from more experienced members of the team.

  • A simple code review can make developers feel rejected.


When individuals and teams are fearful it will significantly impact their performance. Over time, a fearful team environment will impact the mental wellbeing of the team leading to burnout.


Leaders should accept that these four fears appear to some degree in every team. These fears are a natural part of being human. However, fear does need to be managed so that it doesn't negatively inhibit performance or lead to burnout.


Establishing the right environment and systems that enable the level of fear to be reduced is vital. This is a key role of the Teams Manager. Too often Managers can contribute to fear within the team. Instead, Managers should create a team environment where these fears can be reduced and balanced.


Here are just a few behaviours Managers can role model to help reduce the fear within your teams:

  1. Share your mistakes – What did you learn and how did it help you become stronger

  2. Ask for feedback – What can I do differently?

  3. Share feedback you receive from others – Not just the good, but the constructive too

  4. Celebrate acts of bravery – This might be even the smallest action, such as a quieter team member contributing an idea in a meeting

By acting as a role model the team are likely to model your behaviours which in turn will go some way to addressing the four fatal fears.


To conclude, the next time you are working to develop a team, perhaps taking a moment to reflect on these four fatal fears may help you find a breakthrough.


You can read more about Eddie Jones Leadership Lessons in his book: My Life and Rugby: The Autobiography By Eddie Jones

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©2020 by Toby Sinclair.