Stop asking for general solutions to specific problems

  • “How do you jell a remote team?” You’re really asking how to jell YOUR remote team. The answer is that it depends on the personalities of the people on the team, and what’s preventing them from jelling right now.
  • “How do you get a team to keep up with writing docs?” You’re really asking how to get YOUR team to keep up with writing docs. The answer is that it depends on why nobody wants to write them now. Is it boring? Never read? Instantly outdated? Requires annoying writing tools?
  • “How do you resolve a conflict between team members?” You’re really asking how to resolve a conflict between YOUR team members. The answer is that it depends on the nature of the conflict, the personalities of the people, and how bad things have gotten.

It depends, it depends, it always depends. A one-size-fits-all answer will miss the nuance of your unique problem.

Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem.

John Galsworthy

Engineering leaders often talk about “doing the work required to have an opinion.” This usually means asking questions before you give advice, or not giving advice at all.

But the onus should be on the asker, not the answerer. Coach people on asking better questions, and ask better questions yourself. Don’t hold the context back. Explain the history. Get both of your hands dirty in the details. It’ll take longer, but any answers you get may actually be relevant.

Otherwise, the only true answer is that it depends.

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