Fear of Success

  • Anecdotal Evidence:

    Wayne & Garth: "We are not worthy!"

    The Crazies: "It's fear of success mate!"

AntiPattern Problem

An interesting phenomenon often occurs when people and projects are on the brink of success. Some people begin to worry obsessively about the kinds of things that can go wrong. Insecurities about professional competence come to the surface. When discussed openly, these worries and insecurities can occupy the minds of the project team members. Irrational decisions may be made and inappropriate actions may be taken to address these concerns.

For example, these discussions may generate negative publicity outside the project team that affects how the deliverable is perceived, and may ultimately have a destructive effect on the project outcome.

Fear of Success is related to termination issues. In general, group dynamics progress through a number of phases, discernable for both one-week projects and efforts of lengthier duration. The first phase addresses group acceptance issues.

In the second phase, as relationships are formed, individuals assume various roles in the group, including both formal roles in the organization and informal self-determined roles. This is an important factor in team building. After the roles are established, the work is accomplished (third phase). Many personality issues may arise during this phase. Because project completion may result in dissolution of the group, these issues often emerge as project termination approaches (fourth phase).

In the termination phase, concerns about the outcome of the project, its future life cycle, and the group's subsequent activities are often expressed in indirect ways. In other words, people do crazy things.

Refactored Solution

One important action that management can take near the end of a project is to declare success. Statements by management that support the successful outcome of the project are needed, even if the actual outcome is ambiguous. It is important to help the project team to accept the significance of their achievements and lessons learned.

Declaring success also helps to mitigate termination issues, maintain the team's commitment to the organization, and pave the way for future project activities. An award ceremony, complete with the issuance of certificates or plaques, is an appropriate gesture for this purpose. Professional recognition is inexpensive and highly valued by recipients.


Personal consultation and mentoring is an effective way to cope with the concerns of individuals. Senior staff who have experience on several projects can help others to cope with the stresses of termination issues. Exhibiting patience during the transition to success is important behavior to demonstrate and emulate.