I’ve been watching Chef’s Table on Netflix, which is a great series. In the first episode, Massimo Bottura says “When you have a relation, you speak the same language. If you speak the same language, you can share a dialog.”
I like that ordering:
Step 1: build a relation(ship)
Step 2: speak the same language
Step 3: Share a dialog
I see too many technical leaders, from Lead Programmers all the way up to CTO’s, skip right to Step 3. They try to have a dialog before speaking the same language, and certainly before building a relationship. I believe this is how meaningless “business lingo” gets created. This kind of language appears to convey meaning, but it’s often devoid of meaning, leaving the listener confused and possibly a bit intimidated. If you’re not sure what I mean, check out the Buzzword Bingo entry on Wikipedia.
To share a meaningful dialog, you must speak the same language.
Speaking the same language means you share the same definition around words like…
1. Code review
If everyone on the team isn’t speaking the same language, you should stop and examine the relationship.
People in a relationship speak the same language
When I ask my wife, “Do you feel like Chinese for lunch?” and she says “Hmmm…”, I know that she doesn’t want Chinese for dinner.
If you were listening, you might think she’s considering it. She’s not. She doesn’t want Chinese and has clearly communicated that to me. I know this because we have a relationship with a shared language.
When I ask a co-worker “Do you feel like Chinese for lunch?” and he says “Hmmm…”, I’m going to sit and wait for an answer. I assume that he’s considering my question, and thinking about how to reply. We do have a relationship, but we have less shared language about where to eat.
You are the lens
Leader-Member Exchange Theory (LMX Theory) tells us that the best predictor of your team member’s job performance and job satisfaction is the relationship they have with you. Shared language is a part of that relationship. Share language flows out of the relationship, and it starts the first day they come to work for you. This is why consistent, weekly 1:1 meetings are so important. The whole goal of 1:1 meetings is to build as strong, trusted professional relationship with your team members. Everything in that meeting should contribute to that goal, including when you consistently ask for feedback on how you can improve.
Remember, the relationship they have with you is the lens which your team sees their entire work experience. How your team feels about you has a huge impact on how they see the company goals, the customers, the executive team, the code base, the software architecture, the choice of languages, the testing tools, the process, the features and the bugs.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true. It’s not about the tools or process. It’s about the relationship they have with you. This is where your investment as a technical leader needs to be. If you forget this, you forget about the most important thing. That’s why I close many of my YouTube video’s with the phrase: “Now, go talk to your team.”