Dec 27, 2012

Viking laws for tech teams, part 6: be direct

This post is part of the "Viking laws for tech teams" series.

5 more days till 2013. Here's my contribution to the holiday cheer :)

Whether you like it or not, my nerd brothers, our job involves more than breaking building cool applications and platforms in solitary confinement. OK, maybe some of you ARE confined (and rightfully so), but the rest of us have to interact with people. Here are a few examples : team members (ok to speak to, hopefully), technical colleagues (mostly ok), non-technical colleagues (possibly nice but clueless), managers (political bastards), top managers (now it gets really bad), customers (why me? I'm just an engineer), suppliers (clueless AND political), etc.

Endless combination of personalities, skills, experience, goals, benevolence, etc. The richness of human interaction.... yeah, right (snarls). I stopped long ago trying to adjust: too complicated, too frustrating, too slow.  Overall, a very inefficient way of solving problems and getting anything done.

I'm not saying that diplomacy, patience and kindness are not desirable attributes. They certainly are, if they're genuine and not an excuse for cowardliness and indecision.

So, when in doubt, let's just be direct, dammit! Say what you think, tell it like it is, spit it all out. Have the guts to stand for what you believe in. Try to stick to facts. Respect the right of others to speak up as well (yes, it's very unpleasant at times). And should there be some yellin' in the process, well... so be it. High stakes and high performers will generate sparks every now and then. Go work for a wishy-washy loser company if you can't take it.

Face it, people almost always know what the real problem is. Let them speak openly. Let them bring bad news to the table. Let them disagree with each other and with you. Create an environment where it's ok for everyone to do all of this and walk away, not only safely but with confidence that issues ARE understood and tackled. 

I don't know of any better way to define, crystallize and solve problems. The good news is that it doesn't take brains to do this in your team: just a little bit of strength, courage and honesty. It's within reach, try it.

And if all else fails, do it one last time on your way out: "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act" - Orwell


  1. I agree with the "say things are they are" policy. But I would add that it also takes balls to give up on some lesser fights to be able to get more out of the important fights. And also that it takes even bigger balls to admit when one is wrong. Moreover, listening is a big part of this method. And it implies empathy.And if I indulge a little bit into gross generalization, the non-technical nice but clueless colleague I am would say that it is not one of the many qualities of my lovely nerds semi-gods colleagues :) But I could be wrong (and I have HUGE balls, so I am often wrong :)).

  2. Good points. Thanks for reading.