I was fortunate to hear Rich Sheridan, president of Menlo Innovations and the author of the terrific book, Joy, Inc., speak at the AME Innovation Summit last week. At one point, he explained that "the sound of silence from your colleagues is a signal that they need help." There's always conversational noise at Menlo Innovations. It's an open office environment, and his programmers work in pairs, so there's always plenty of talking. If programming is progressing smoothly, there's a consistent conversation between the programmers. But if there's extended silence, the programmers have probably hit a roadblock and are having problems figuring out a way around it. Essentially, the sound of silence is a kind of invisible, silent, andon cord. When it's "pulled," one of the nearby programming teams comes to help.
I love this story.
In a typical office environment, it's often an effort to signal that you need help: you have to get up from your desk and find your boss or a colleague, which might take 2 minutes or 20. There's also the need to overcome the psychological hurdle of explicitly saying that you've got a problem and need assistance. Menlo's approach eliminates the need to find someone while removing the psychological hurdle. How easy is it in your company for people to get help when they need it?