In a recent Lean Coffee retrospective, each member of our team was asked to raise one question or concern about our working environment. For me, my burning question is how much should we mind other peoples' business. After voicing out my concern, I got a subtle response from the team, as people did not feel very comfortable expressing their thoughts on this controversial topic. Even without the possibility of hiding our real opinion to be politically correct, it is quite likely that many of us still do not know which attitude is more desirable in our working environment. Talking about personal preference, I have met people that truly believe on opposite sides of the spectrum. Apparently, if the workplace is mixed with both types of people having opposite mindsets, conflicts tend to happen more often.
However, this topic is rarely being discussed in workplace. Therefore, there is often a lack of consensus in corporate environments regarding how much should we care about how other people work. As a consequence, some people may silently suffer while others may feel frustrated with the lack of communication and cooperation.
So, is there a right mindset that we should adopt in our working environment or should we just let each employee have it their own way and hope that they will all slowly adapt to each other? Let's discuss if we have any viable solution.
Mind Your Own Business
Usually, the culprits of meddling with other peoples' work are the ones who manage. It is obvious that no one likes to be micromanaged, even the micromanager himself. Being told what to do in details would give us limited space for innovation and self learning, plus a bitter taste of not being trusted.
In real life, micromanagement is never the optimal solution. Even in the best scenario, micromanagement can only help to deliver a project with average quality and create a bunch of unhappy developers. Following instructions rather than depending on one's own thinking rarely creates excellent work. To be fair, it can help rescue a project if the progress falls below expectations, but it will not help much on achieving excellency. It is even worse that managers who accomplish the jobs by micromanagement can be addicted to it and find it harder to place trust on subordinates in the future.
To Avoid Misunderstanding
It is even harder to interfere with some one else work if you do not happen to be a senior or the supervisor. In reality, an act of good will can be interpreted as an act of arrogance unless one manages to earn a positive reputation in the work place. Even if the contributions bring an obvious outcome, not every working environment encourages heroism or rock star programming. Moreover, some introverted folks may not feel comfortable with the attention as a side effect.
Similar to above, this hero act is normally more welcome in crisis time, but may not be very well received when the project is already stable.
Or Mind Other Peoples' Business as Well
Reaching Team Goals
To be fair, no one bothers to care about someone else's work if it is not for the sake of the project. Of course, there are many poisonous managers who want to act busy by creating artificial pressure but in this article, let's focus on the people who want to see their project succeed. These people sometimes walk out of their roles and just do whatever's necessary to get the job done.
Eventually, because project work is still team work, it may be more beneficial for each member of them team to think and focus on a common goal rather than an individual mission. It is pretty hard to keep the information flow going, and the components to integrate everything smoothly if each member is only focused on fulfilling their role. No matter how good the plan, there will likely be some missing piece, and that missing piece needs to be addressed as soon as possible to keep the project moving forward.
The Necessary Evil to Get the Job Done
Many successful entrepreneurs claim that the secret of their success is to delegate tasks to capable employees and place trust in them. It is definitely the best solution when you have capable staff. However, in reality, most of us are not entrepreneurs, and the people working on the project are chosen by available resources rather than the best resources. There may be a time when a project is prioritized and granted the best resources available, i.e. when it is in a deep crisis. However, we would not want our project to go through that.
Therefore, from my point of view, the necessary evil here is the task oriented attitude over people oriented attitude. We should value people and give everyone the chance for self improvement, but task completion is still the first priority. If the result of work is not the first priority, it is hard to measure and to improve performance. I feel it is even more awkward to hinder performance for the sake of human well-being when the project is failing.
So, What is the Best Compromise?
I think the best answer is balance. Knowing that meddling with other people's work is risky, but the project success is the ultimate priority, the best choice should be defining a minimal acceptable performance and be ready to step in if the project is failing. Eventually, we do not work to fulfill our task, we work together to make project success. Personal success provide very little benefit other than your own well-being from the corporate point of view. However, don't let this consume you and be addicted with the feeling of being the people's hero. Plus, don't raise the bar too high, otherwise the environment will be stressed and people feel less encouraged.