Archive for August 2015
Everyone is interested in improving the workplace relative to inclusion, diversity, and equality across many dimensions. Research continues to show that many of the challenges experienced by team members are rooted in the combination of unconscious bias or routine communication approaches that might date back to our earliest development. There are many tools and skills available for everyone (!) to do better and I wanted to share some that I recently experienced. Openness to the variety of tools available is a first step in improving the workplace.
This week I participated in one such workshop, The Ally Skills Workshop, created by the Ada Initiative. The workshop was held at Slack and facilitated by Leigh Honeywell. She works at Slack and is also an advisor to the Ada Initiative who has facilitated this workshop many times. Having participated in a large number of related trainings and workshops over the years, I wanted to offer this one as a low-cost, lightweight, and at the same time highly valuable tool for groups. I believe it is especially relevant and appropriate to the < 50 person startup environment, though of course broadly applicable (and used at many large SV companies).
It isn’t appropriate or possible to recap an experiential workshop. The mechanics of Ally Skills are straight forward. In groups of 15-40 people (men are the primary target but groups of all kinds are encouraged) the facilitator guides the group through 2-3 hours of scenario-based discussions in breakouts and then group dialog. It is very straight forward, low-risk, and eye-opening. For those worried about something being too “heavy” or “HR”, the creators of this workshop are engineers with a great history in technology companies so you can be assured the tone is right.
The resources including facilitator training are all available via Creative Commons on the Ada Initiative site. The Initiative is going through a transition now and soon more information will be available for how you can directly contact the right people for obtaining this training for your company or group. You can contact Valerie Aurora for more information.
The Ally Workshop slides, the presenter guide, as well as a video of the class being taught are all available: http://adainitiative.org/what-we-do/workshops-and-training/.
While I have your attention on this topic, I wanted to share some other resources that I picked up at the workshop this week courtesy Leigh:
- Planning an offsite? Here’s a guide to inclusive offsites that originated at Google and is available via Creative Commons: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Inclusive_offsites
- Need tips on inclusive event planning? Here’s a collection of resources compile from the experiences at AdaCamp gatherings for making sure you are thinking holistically about inclusion https://adacamp.org/. This covers everything from catering, registering, planning and more.
- More blog resources? There are tons of blogs and resources out there and here are a few that I would recommend checking out: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com, http://geekfeminism.org/, http://captainawkward.com/.
One super interesting article that Leigh mentioned is a research paper from 1970 about the “Tyranny of Structureless”. I think this is a remarkably relevant work to consider given today’s oft-expressed view that the absence of structure and process is the way to avoid bias and discrimination (TL;DR—the opposite is the case).
All of us should always be in a learning mode when it comes to forming teams and building products that represent the very best work of everyone contributing. I would encourage everyone at every stage in their career to be on the lookout for new tools and techniques or new perspectives that each of us can put to use. No matter where you are in your career or how aware you are of your own behavior, there’s always learning to be done.
This post is a verbatim reprint from a book I wrote with Marco Iansiti of Harvard Business School, One Strategy: Organization, Planning, and Decision Making (Smile link). The original content was from a Microsoft internal blog post dated April 23, 2008. More context is available in the book (Google Books link). Posts were written for the Windows team but available to the whole company at the same time.
One of the things that is really important to me is making sure working on Windows and Windows Live is a low-stress job. Stress is evil, in fact stress is defined as:
stress: strain felt by somebody: mental, emotional, or physical strain caused, e.g. by anxiety or overwork. It may cause such symptoms as raised blood pressure or depression.
The thing about stress is that it is both physical and emotional. Stress is all about a loss of control (anxiety). Loss of control comes from not really knowing the goals, not understanding what success looks like, and in our vernacular, about being random. Stress comes because the work required is incompatible with your capabilities or your view of success. Stress is about a mismatch between your reality and the reality of your manager or team.
Stress in the workplace is 100% incompatible with building great software.
On the other hand, pressure is all around us. We have pressure to succeed. Pressure to get the build right. Pressure to get the design right. Pressure to go live with content. Pressure is a motivator. Pressure is defined as:
pressure: urgency, as of affairs or business
The thing about pressure is that it comes from within. Pressure is about the plan. Pressure is about your own goals (affairs). By operating with a plan and the details of that plan were created by the team we transform what might be stress into pressure. Pressure comes because you want to be successful against the goals you have set out. Pressure comes because the peers you depend on are expecting you to deliver what was communicated. Pressure is about the constant force in our environment to deliver on the plan we developed together.
Pressure in the workplace is how we stay on our toes and put forth our best efforts. Performing under pressure, while challenging, is what helps us as engineers to make great choices and use the constraints to our (and our customers) advantage.
No one works well under stress—the physical toll is real and provable. Some folks don’t work well under pressure. You don’t have to put yourself under pressure, but we’re a competitive company and like a great athletic team we do want that effort to go above 100%, but we can do so in a constructive way by using pressure to our advantage.
We’ve got some pressure going on now on our team. IE 8 in the final milestone. Integrating the M1 build of Windows Live. Windows 7 moving to M3. We’re excited. The pressure is real. It is pressure like being in the World Cup because we know what got us here and we know what it takes to be successful.
PS: Yes these words are similar. The beauty of words are the subtle differences that make them special.
PPS: I’m just excited to use the new build of LiveWriter – and the whole Wave 3 suite!