Un-busy your team

The short story of focus and idleness and how not having it influences your team.

The rituals

How many companies you know are doing “the agile”?

How many are going through some kind of agile transformation at the moment?

What are the rituals of your agile team? Do you have any?

Did those rituals get added on top of your regular agenda or did they streamline it and “merge” it (in a sense)?

I know most of you are cringing by now.

The sync

Being in the tech industry for a while now, I got a pretty good understanding of how easy all the good process management and organizational ideas descend into the spiral of never ending syncs, reports, daily meetings… It all seems logical - to gain visibility of every small process, you have to have many meetings to align with everyone or read same amount of reports. Small price to pay to gain transparency and agility.

And when we achieve nothing, which is logical result of not doing anything, we conclude that we need the retrospective. Or even better - a few retrospectives.

But, is not doing anything actually the worst thing about it? What does it mean “to do” in this case?

The team

In our industry (any engineering and science, really, but let’s stick to what we know) your team is your “think tank”, it is carefully chosen group of talented people who have tools to do the job.

And the job is … problem solving, creating, hacking… It is fight for that new idea, for knowledge and inspiration.

IRQ

In a computer, an interrupt request is a hardware signal sent to the processor that temporarily stops a running program and allows a special program, an interrupt handler, to run instead. Hardware interrupts are used to handle events such as receiving data from a modem or network card, key presses, or mouse movements.

Wikipedia(and any microprocessor architecture 101 course)

Interruption works more or less the same with people - you send a request for new piece of work, if it is perceived as more important current work will pause and new work will begin.

However, no real life work is as simple and as straight forward to jump on as pre-processed, compiled and linked code sent straight to microprocessor that then does what it is best in. Microprocessor has queue for this stuff as well…

The busy

When person is interrupted while working, by new piece of work or just new piece of information, many things happen cognitively and emotionally before we even get to doing some of it. When new communication comes in, especially if it is relate to other similar, but not the same piece of work, context change hits and, for some period of time, takes over significant part of our cognitive capacity. If this is, as it is usually the case, followed by emotional reaction due to being interrupted, we have significant negative impact on both cognitive capacity and spirit. People tend to be stressed out if ability to focus is taken away from them, or when priorities keep changing.

This is where real problem is shaped - today, people are often busy even before they start doing something, and they sometimes stay so busy that they do not actually do anything… And in many cases it is a our failure as leaders - we did not protect our teams from this.

Focus at work

Focus is a lot about strategic choice, about systematically avoiding context switches. Shifting your mind from one thing to another cost us lowered productivity time - very often low productivity and high frustration periods.

More precisely - in most of the cases it costs us days of significantly lowered productivity every week.

Some idle time

Make sure to know that having idle time is essential for creative work. Stopping your mind from racing, blurring the focus and just hanging around yields lots of beautiful thought processes. Idleness is in the root of EUREKA! moment.

Your team needs focus and idleness, you need focus and idleness, your company’s mission and vision depends on your focus and idleness.

The busy busy

What, unfortunately, happens is that we are busy, which turns out to be quite the opposite to actually doing work.

This phenomena is semi-recognized through quite proverbially paraphrasing “Busy is a new stupid” everywhere and trying to make some sense out of our schedules and how to effectively manage our time.

What is there to do, anyways?

It is time ot recognize the following:

  • Not all interruptions are work requests but all te interruptions are making your mind busy.
  • Not all time consuming tasks are work, but they are making you busy
  • You can not hack and create while you are busy, unless you are busy hacking and creating.
  • You can not learn new thing while you are busy, unless you are busy learning.
  • When you stop being busy, your mind needs time to settle before becoming creative (not to mention sugar).

Leaders

It is job of a leader to make sure things are moving forward, motivating team and finding that spark that puts everyone where they want to be. You got to know where everyone wants to be and what everyone wants to do.

Additionally, leader needs to get team’s work where it needs to be according to general vision. Vision, marching orders - tomayto, tomahto… Your only job is to enable everyone in the team to be their best selves, to focus, move forward and thrive. Leader should protect the team from distractions in order to let them do what they do best.

All in all it is rather conundrum-a-day then I-got-this situation, but one thing is certain.

In order to be able to do everything that needs to be done, we have to help team be less busy.

Our teams of engineers and creatives need to not be busy. We need to commit our time to protect the precious minds that create our worlds.

We need to unbusy our teams.