Sit Together

Sit Together

Develop in an open space big enough for the whole team. Meet the need for privacy and "owned" space by having small private spaces nearby or by limiting work hours so team members can get their privacy needs met elsewhere.

I was called to consult at a floundering project on the outskirts of Chicago. Why the project was floundering was a mystery, because the team consisted of the best technical talent in the company. I walked from cubicle to cubicle trying to figure out what was wrong with their computer program.

After a couple of days, it struck me: I was walking a lot. The senior people of course had corner offices, one in each corner of a floor of a substantial building. The team interacted only a few minutes each day. I suggested that they find a place to sit together. When I returned a month later, the project was humming along. The only space they could find to sit together was in the machine room. They were spending four to five hours a day in a cold, drafty, noisy room; but they were happy because they were successful.

I took two lessons from that experience. One is that no matter what the client says the problem is, it is always a people problem. Technical fixes alone are not enough. The other lesson I took was how important it is to sit together, to communicate with all our senses.

You can creep up on sitting together, if necessary. Put a comfortable chair in your cubicle to encourage conversation. Spend half a day programming in a conference room. Ask for a conference room for a one-week trial of a more open workspace. All of these are steps towards finding a workspace that is effective for your team.

Tearing down the cubicle walls before the team is ready is counterproductive. If the team members' sense of safety is tied to having their own little space, removing that sense of safety before replacing it with the safety of shared accomplishment is likely to produce resentment and resistance. With a little encouragement, teams can shape their own space. A team that knows that physical proximity enhances communication and that has learned the value of communication will open up their own space, given the chance.

Does the practice of sitting together mean that multisite teams can't "do XP"? Chapter 21, "Purity," explores this question in more depth; but the simple answer is no, teams can be distributed and do XP. Practices are theories, predictions. "Sit Together" predicts that the more face time you have, the more humane and productive the project. If you have a multisite project and everything is going well, keep doing what you're doing. If you have problems, think about ways to sit together more, even if it means traveling.

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