Thursday, November 05, 2015

Convincing your team you haven't decided

One of the things I find myself saying a lot as a software architect is, "I don't have an opinion yet."  Often the team continues asking questions, ending with, "Is that what you want?" and I say again, "No, really -- I don't have an opinion yet!"  Since I am either the expert whose advice is being sought, or the leader who is responsible for making the decision, this is surprising (and sometimes a little frustrating) for the team I'm working with.  I can't possibly be the only software leader with this challenge, so here are my insights about it.

There are two main reasons I profess not to have an opinion:

  1. I need more information before I can make the decision.
  2. I have an opinion, but I don't trust it.

One helpful thing for my team would be just to share these things.  I think the reason I don't is that it's subconscious, so writing a blog like this helps me move these things from mental habits to explicit thought processes that I can change.

But sometimes I actually want the team to make the decision, and review it with me in some way (see 7 levels of delegation).  In that scenario, I really don't want to taint the results with my opinion in situation #2, but I have to avoid making the team feel "set up" when I ask them to research something, and don't like their results.

Another part of the communication problem can be my tone of voice, coupled with a little bit of a love of philosophy.  When we find a good question, my intonation tends to end on a descending tone, as though the sentence ended with a period.  For example, "What is the test framework we will use here."  If you read it like a sentence, it sounds a lot like your teacher asking a review question.  And that tone of voice made the team feel like I already knew the answer, and was just 'testing' them to see if they can come up with it.  (Kudos to my friend Matt for this insight)

Anyway, these are some things that happen to me as I work to lead a team of smart people.  Share or reblog your insights as well!

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