Good teams are noisy

The most productive and jelled teams I’ve seen tend to be the noisiest. The Slack channels for those teams are chaos.

The teams I’ve seen with the worst morale tend to be quiet. People on those teams don’t talk to each other often. They rattle off a standup update, and they ask for help when they get blocked on something, and that’s it.

The book The Culture Code talks about a team’s “notification rate” in the context of airline pilots:

The term pilots use to describe this type of short-burst communication is notifications. A notification is not an order or a command. It provides context, telling of something noticed, placing a spotlight on one discrete element of the world.

Notifications are the humblest and most primitive form of communication, the equivalent of a child’s finger-point: I see this.

Unlike commands, they carry unspoken questions: Do you agree? What else do you see? In a typical landing or takeoff, a proficient crew averages twenty notifications per minute.

Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code

I love the simplicity: you just say stuff. Throw your random thoughts and observations in the chat room. You don’t have to filter out the stuff that isn’t useful to anyone else. Who are you to decide that anyway? You’re increasing the notification rate of the team, and that’s all the reason you need.

This is powerful in 2 ways:

#1: It increases the possibility of serendipitous moments. Your coworker sees you’re working on X and says “Oh I looked into X last week and I noticed Y!” Or the reverse: you start working on X and you think “wait a second, didn’t someone say something about X in the chat last week?”

Standup is meant to do that kind of thing, but summarizing 8 hours of work into a 15 second update doesn’t provide enough granularity.

#2: It makes a team feel more like a team. A team that doesn’t talk to each other isn’t a team. Constant communication helps teams become teams instead of some people who happen to be working from the same kanban board. Trust is built slowly and steadily and increasing notification rates help a lot.

I can hear you now: “But that will be so distracting! People won’t get any work done! Important messages will be lost!

Instead of thinking of all the reasons why it will fail, try it out. Take a team that doesn’t feel much like a team, and encourage everyone to start saying more. Make it an experiment, and lead by example. Keep it up for a couple months and see if people feel more comfortable and honest and vulnerable. See if the team feels more like a team.


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