Why you should make little assumptions on what team members have understood – [Everyday Company Culture]

Culture is how we do stuff around here. Every day there is a new challenge with communication, transparency, accountability, with what we value and what we think of the world (mainly inside of our organization).

With the Everyday Company Culture series I am trying to look at specific cases, the root cause of the challenge and how we approach them. This approach is different form setting X high level, single word values that are understood differently by each member in organization. Example – transparency. It is easy to aim for a ‘transparency’ in an organization. It is difficult to properly communicate what is ‘transparency’. Same for ‘diversity’, ‘accountability’, ‘clarity in communication’, etc.

My hope is that this series could bring more value inside of our organization and hopefully help other small and large teams work better.

Today’s resolution. TL;DR

Don’t assume that people know. Ask for confirmation especially when things seem trivial to you. If things are not trivial you would have spend time to properly communicate them. But when things are trivial from your point of view you could make a large assumption that they are also trivial for others.

Today’s case

“A Robotics field that costs about 150 euros and 2 days to assemble is lost and it would take about $500 and 2 days now to restore it”

Root cause

Assumption. Communication.

We made a wrong assumption that a new team member understands a term that we’ve been using in our team for the last 7 years. We as a team made the assumption that the new member is familiar with how things are done in our team. We’ve never been explicit and even though about being explicit about this specific topic.

Full Story

Ivo is part of the team for about 1 year. He was using a robotics field for a project he has been working and has already completed. The field has about 15 models placed on it. Ivo is asked a few times by the rest of the team “When is he going to disassemble the field, because it takes a lot of space. He is currently not using it and won’t be using it in the near future”.

The end result is that he disassembles the field and he also disassembles the models on the field. But he should have just disassembled the field. Not the models.

The challenge was that for the last 7 years the term “disassemble the field” in the team has grown to mean something different from what a relatively new team member will understand. We as a team made an assumption that Ivo will distinguish between “disassemble the field” and “disassemble the models”. For Ivo on the other hand the term “disassemble the field” means “disassemble both the field and the models”

Nobody on the team could imagine that we should be explicit about this and ask Ivo to differentiate between them. As a result we’ve lost about 4 days of work and about $700. It would be cheaper to buy new models than to try to assemble again the disassembled models.