July 1, 2007 by
Filed under: People 

I’ve always been convinced that failure to communicate is at the root of almost all challenges we face in software development. Process and procedures are a means of ensuring that we do the right things at the right time, analysis models help us communicate different aspects of our product in more precise forms than the English language can convey.

Beyond the engineering solutions to the communication issues, we also have to deal with the nuances of relationships and teamwork to provide us with more tools. Understanding individual motives and honing our skills in active listening and conflict resolution make it still easier to communicate, but there is still more.

As we engage as part of a team, it takes more than technical skills and interpersonal techniques to ensure we are all working together effectively. We need to engage others with candor.

Communicating with candor is more than merely telling the truth. Candor involves full disclosure of all information that you are aware of (and indeed, disclosure of the areas where you don’t have all the information), both positive and negative. In order to do this, everyone on the team needs to feel safe in their environment. If there is any lack of trust among the team, or any issues that have not been completely dealt with in the past, it can become too easy to hold back. Candor and hidden agendas are like water and chocolate (if not in that order).

While there are some individuals that have the self-confidence to be able to walk into almost any situation and speak with complete candor, it is a very rare team where everyone exhibits this trait. In the stages of team development (forming, storming, norming and performing), it is only when a team has achieved that elusive stage of performing that we have built the infrastructure of trust, of openness and caring that sets the stage for candor. For teams that have been there, most know that it is all too easy to backslide from this state. It takes effort to get to the performing stage, and effort to stay there.

Why is this important? It is at this stage where the team is firing on all cylinders, working together effectively as a group, and having a good time in the process. With complete candor, the shared memory of the team is more complete, more consistent. Fewer balls are dropped, and improved efficiency opens the door for the team to be more creative.

For those working within the agile principle that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation, candor is a must. If you are not consciously maturing your team dynamics to the point where candor is possible, your agile projects will be in grave danger.

It is interesting that the term candor has come up twice recently, with different groups, both in the context of working as part of a team. It is a term that is rarely heard these days, so to hear it twice in short order made it stand out all the more for me. It conveys the essence of what is necessary to reach the peak of performance for a successful team: to be in an environment where you can safely communicate with candor.

As you are engaged with your team, at all levels, have you achieved that goal? Are you able to communicate with candor? – JB

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