The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
— “Happy Thought,” Robert Louis Stevenson
Today I spent a couple of engrossing hours listening to a man talk about the way the people he works with get their work done. When I walked into their offices this morning, I was struck by the quiet and apparent serenity. Everyone was working away at their desks in a large room, many of them standing at desks that were obviously easily adjustable for their comfort throughout the day. The office was in an unassuming building downtown that I had worked in myself several years ago, though on another floor. But, this space was much different than the one I had worked in.
The team works in 90 minute long highly focused periods, breaking at the end of that time period to talk together about their progress, where they need help, and what they plan to do next. Working this way seems to work well for them as it has helped them make their commitments to their customers in an environment they find comfortable and attractive. (One of them even followed me out of the office at the end of the two hour session and spent another 15 minutes talking to me on the street corner about what a great place to work they have and why he thinks it all works so well.)
As I sat listening to the man I’d actually made the appointment with, it occurred to me that it could benefit many other work groups in the local vicinity to listen to this work team. They are a group of software developers, but their work methods may not need to be strictly confined to that industry. I thought about various venues where they might present a panel discussion—and then I thought about how many people would feel a need to critique their method rather than inquire into why it works so well for them and what they’ve learned from it.
Critiquing is something almost all of us seem to be called upon—or feel called upon—to do almost every day. It’s how many of us make a living. And, my point here is not that there is no space for critique or that it is not useful, just that sometimes it seems too prevalent. And, I am sometimes concerned that we miss out on important information by not inquiring as much as we might if so much air time was not taken up by critique.
I still hope to encourage this work group to talk about their processes and how those processes work for them in a more or less public forum. And, if they do, I’ll be there to encourage the conversation in the direction of inquiry. Life works best when we all get better together rather than pursuing the fiction that if you do worse I automatically do better. Work is a tremendously important part of our lives, and doing it well and happily is a goal worth pursuing.