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I am leading a team of 6 developers, with all of us are located in one single physical office.

The thing is, all of the people on our team are pretty introverted, so we mostly communicate by gmail chat even though all of us are sitting within walking distance from one another.

Being an introvert also means that we are focused all day on our workstation and rarely talk to each other outside of the job (and like I said above, even for in-job communication we are typing via gmail chat and hence no much pitch-rising talking as well), so no cafeteria or hallway discussion that will blow up new ideas!

This is an environment that is as close as it can be to Joel's ideal of Private Office and quiet working environment. So it should probably maximize the developers' output as the noise and unnecessary distractions are minimized, right?

However, it seems to me that something is missing. As much as we like quiet environment, I feel like staring all days at a monitor with no human beings to talk to is not just anti-social, but anti-human.

Is having an environment so quiet that you won't speak more than 5 sentences on average a day cause for concern, and should I try to change it? Why or why not?

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    Is everyone happy? Is the work getting done? Are you innovating despite the silence? Hard to argue with what works. If you do want change, why not set aside a lunch together every week, or something of the sort, and see how that works out. Just don't force something unnatural if it causes discomfort. – jmac Mar 14 '13 at 7:56
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    That sounds quite ideal for developing complex systems which require extensive concentration. It is much easier to absorb yourself into a given task when there is no external noise disturbing the process. – Juha Untinen Mar 14 '13 at 9:57
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    This is a poll currently. See the FAQ for information regarding how to make this more on topic for this site. – enderland Mar 14 '13 at 12:11
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    A group of programmers who are so introverted, you don't even talk about programming? That's sad. – user8365 Mar 14 '13 at 17:54
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    Hi @Graviton - I've made an edit to your question to try and get it reopened, as I think this is a decent question for the site. I've voted to reopen the question, but it still needs 4 more reopen votes from other community members. If I've changed your question too much, feel free to roll back the changes or edit it further :) – Rachel Mar 15 '13 at 18:17
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It's a cause for concern if the people who work there think that it's a problem or if it's uncomfortable. If your team hasn't raised any concerns and seems happy with it, then I don't think that you should worry about it.

If your goal is to give your team the opportunity to get to know each other better because you think they don't, you might want to reconsider your assumption that they find their current level of interaction and feeling of being a single team is a problem for them. If that's a problem, but they like their working environment, then you can come up with ways around that. Big companies call them morale events, which sounds lame, but taking everyone out for lunch or going out to a movie (which, yes, is still a silent thing, but it's still a step in the right direction) or racing go-karts or whatever will help build camaraderie. If your team is highly productive, make sure that you schedule this in such a way that it doesn't have a negative impact on their productivity.

If your goal is to get ideas flowing, you might want to reconsider your assumption that they're not having ideas flowing in a way that works for them. Especially if you're in the same room, chat can be roughly the same as a hallway conversation. One of the great things about a hallway conversation is that you see someone, it reminds you of something, and you ask your question or share your idea. But if you're all already there, and if your team is already of the culture where they communicate 1:1 via chat, then they might already be functionally having hallway conversations and you're just not hearing it. If the ideas aren't flowing, and if this is actually a problem, then find a way to get ideas flowing that does work for your team. It might be as simple as having an off-site meeting to talk through some of the challenges that you're facing.

Overall, you need to listen to your team. If your team is happy and productive, your assumptions that this isn't working might not be valid.

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it seems to me that something is missing...

Is having an environment so quiet that you won't speak more than 5 sentences on average a day cause for concern, and should I try to change it?

Being an introvert developer myself, I can safely confirm that environment like above is 200% comfortable to me. But (and that is very very big BUT), I also believe that as a dev lead, you've got a problem here.

You see, quiet environment isn't the only important thing. Even the article you refer to lists couple other points besides that one, and it doesn't even pretend to make complete list.

The problem is, the way things are as you describe, you can't tell whether your team members feel OK or are unhappy. The problem with quietly unhappy developer, in turn, is that they can equally quietly leave, following the popular behavioral pattern eloquently described in The Rise of Developeronomics article:

Rather than... negotiate with management, the talented developer will simply exit a situation he/she does not like, and use guild-like resources to move to a better situation...


Solution for above problem is pretty clearly described and explained in an excellent article The Update, The Vent, and The Disaster. This article is written from a perspective of a dev team manager and as such, it makes a good fit for your position, too.

Business is full of people worrying loudly about projects, process, and other people... but this chatter will bury the individual voice unless someone pays attention.

Your job in a 1:1 is to give the smallest voice a chance to be heard...

...you do want to create a weekly place where dissatisfaction might quietly appear. A 1:1 is your chance to perform weekly preventive maintenance while also understanding the health of your team.

...The sound that surrounds successful regimen of 1:1s is silence. All of the listening, questioning, and discussion that happens during a 1:1 is managerial preventative maintenance. You’ll see when interest in a project begins to wane and take action before it becomes job dissatisfaction. You’ll hear about tension between two employees and moderate a discussion before it becomes a yelling match in a meeting. Your reward for a culture of healthy 1:1s is a distinct lack of drama.

Note you can't safely substitute 1:1 conversation with any kind of group talk / chat. When there are more than one person to speak, you're always at risk to miss something important from someone who prefers to let others talk.

Thing worth noting is that even the passive "openness to 1:1" won't help here. "Hey if things go wrong, just ping or come to me, I'll be happy to discuss this 1:1." They may simply think the issue isn't bad enough to bother you - especially if it develops gradually and slowly... until it's too late.

  • "Hey that offer from <other team / company> sounds cool, they don't have <this issue> at all! Why getting into trouble of raising concerns to lead (with unknown outcome) when I have an option to just get rid of it by simply accepting the offer and moving out of here?"

As suggested above, your job is to "give the smallest voice a chance to be heard" and 1:1 is the only reliable way to have that.

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Interesting question though I do think there are a few things worth noting here:

How much communication is done over GMail chat? Is it hundreds of lines a day or just a handful? This is where I'd look to see how social or anti-social are people on the team being because there is a chance that things are being communicated and bonds are formed through something that while from an auditory perspective there is just the keys being tapped, there is a lot more for those that read the messages and understand the conversations that may be happening.

Is having an environment so quiet that you won't speak more than 5 sentences on average a day cause for concern, and should I try to change it?

IMO, not really. Course I'd be one of those with headphones in that kind of office and wouldn't mind using IM to communicate a lot.

Why or why not?

The bigger question is how well is the team getting the job done. If things are being done well, then I'd say it may not be worth trying to change it. On the other hand if you want an experiment you could try playing music or something else to generate more of a vibe.

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