Terms of engagement for a fractious technology choice

I’ve just been through the umpteenth difficult technology choice discussion in my career. You know the scene. A team split into two “camps”, each with their own favoured choice of technology. Each camp getting progressively more insular with each passing day of the “debate”. Frosty encounters at the coffee machine cooler.

Its just a crap way for adults to carry on, and it’s not a work environment I enjoy being in.

So this time I jotted down some reflections that I hope I will recall writing the next time I find myself in this situation, so that I can pull them out and offer them as “terms of engagement”. These seem obvious when you read them. But that’s because you’re probably out of the “heat of battle” now as you read them. Team dynamics, ego and the workings of human minds seem to produce this scenario too often for it to be obvious all the time. So it seems we need to remind ourselves over and over.

  • Every debated technology choice is a trade off. There is not an objectively right answer. By definition this is the case: if there was a clear-cut “right” choice, there would be no debate. But if there is debate, it’s a trade off. One tool likely appeals to some of the team for characteristics they value highly. The other tool appeals to other members, for characteristics they value, but which are different. Acknowledge this as a team.
  • So making a choice in a debated technology decision is a compromise. Call it as such. Instead of calling it a “technology choice” or “stack choice” or “framework choice”, call it a “technology compromise” or “framework compromise”. The language will communicate the reality of what the team is doing, it will emphasise that it’s a team decision, and it will help to de-escalate emotion.
  • There should be no sulking following the decision. There should be no “I told you so” when the weaknesses of the chosen technology surface.
  • Nobody on your team is stupid. Nobody on your team is “not listening”. They are listening and choosing to offer an alternative view point. And they are plenty smart – just know there are many types of intelligence, and while you might excel in one measure, your team members might excel in others.
  • Realise if you chose to dwell in the narrative that “they” don’t get it, it’s likely that “they” might be dwelling in a narrative of you not getting it. Rise up one level of thinking.
  • If you can, use both technologies for a trial period. Probably at some stage you will need to make the compromise.
  • If the “losing” side cannot bring themselves to work with the technology supported by “winning” side, the “losing” side are welcome to leave the team. This should be mentioned. A successful team has an inner culture. A team of divided mind will deliver suboptimal results, and working “together” will be a pain. So this needs to be surfaced as a discussed reality too. There might be a team next door who made the opposite technology choice, and who are of united-mind and who are successful. That team is a better place for the disgruntled members of your team. An organisation should acknowledge this reality, and support the settlement of people into tribes that are aligned with their mindset.

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