Monday, January 10, 2011

Withholding Information

I read this blog post titled Team Trap #5: Withholding Information the other day.  It tells the story of a team brainstorming meeting in which the team is eliminating ideas.  When "Harry"'s idea is eliminated, Harry takes it as a personal attack and detaches from the meeting.  The author's take is that by withdrawing from the meeting and not saying anything about his emotional state to the team Harry is withholding information that the team needs to function well.
This sort of thing happens all the time. One member of the team feels like he’s not being heard, or isn’t valued and withdraws. The rest of the group goes on, discusses, makes decisions, starts to act. The team is missing out on the intelligence, creativity and participation of that member. They won’t have his buy-in for decisions, and won’t have his full-hearted support for action. When situations like this aren’t handled, relationship fracture and drains away. When you’re part of team, you need to be willing to say what’s going on for you, so that the team stays healthy and connected.
Now, if everyone took every opportunity to treat things as personal attacks and started telling the team how their emotions had been hurt we'd never get any work done.  But it is true that this kind of thing happens.  And it happens to everyone at one time or another.

That said, I think it's especially important for programmers to keep this in mind because we have a tendency to expect people to be rational, and we don't react well when they aren't.  People aren't machines, and if you're going to build a strong team it's important to remember that.

Also worth noting, "It's just business" is bullshit.  Work can't be done well without emotion.  But you do have to manage those emotions.  Yours, and everyone else's.

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