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Posted on: Friday, 05 November 2010 by Rajiv Popat

One of my favorite Ted Dziuba post is the one where he advices everyone in the software business and managers in particular to stop using the word "we" and other enterprise words when talking about tasks and responsibilities.

In his classic, loud and highly opinionated way, Ted explains:

Yesterday, I spearheaded a new movement at the office. I stopped using the word "we", and started to say what I really meant to say.  For example, instead of "We should fix that bug", I say, "You should fix that bug", and good God is it satisfying.

There are a couple of motivations for this. Firstly, one of the key things I've learned being a for-pay writer is to show some conviction. Secondly, the passive discussions about defects and delegation and responsibility really started to irritate me. Why not just tell it like it is?

When I worked at Google, I picked up on a really annoying trend in the software industry (or maybe just in Silicon Valley) that I call "fuck-you with a smile".  You never want to outright blame somebody or something, rather, it's best to state the existence of an issue and then ask "the team" to fix it.  We should really move that icon ten pixels to the left. We definitely need to fix that concurrency bug. We should probably have that all done before lunch.

Well then, Mr. Manager, you had better get cracking, because I've got some YouTube videos to watch.

I can see a whole breed of managers knitting their eye brows at the whole approach, but if there is one thing I can tell you after working at countless client offices and observing countless other organizations, it is that it is often the organizations that focus on individuals, the virtues of selfishness and create win-win situations, that are the most fun to work at.

These are also typically the environments which create the best of the teams which are closely bound because every individual understands clearly that their best interest is in complementing the efforts of others, flocking well without bumping into others and giving in their best, because their best earns them the best of appreciation.

An environment where every single achievement of yours is masked under the banner of "the team" often tells the story of an insecure manager spending all his time making sure no particular individual gets more than a certain share of credit.

Every time you plan on using the word "we", the least you can do is make sure that you at-least pick a considerable part of the task you are delegating and actually do it YOURSELF. The "Lets work on this" approach works wonders if you genuinely mean it but if you cannot take up a sizable part of the work, shut up and use "you" or "you guys" instead of "we" because YOU Mr. Manager, are not going to do any real work on this assignment.

The whole idea of only using the word "we" when I am actively contributing in solving a problem is something I may not have always adhered to in the past but it is also something that every single one of us I need to be careful about, specially while working with a team of kick-ass developers.

You want the best to give in their best and add the most value, not assign every task to the mediocre larger "we" or the black hole called "The Team" where everyone is responsible for talking about it but no one responsible for actually doing it.

Stop hiding behind the collective curtain of "we".

Pick up a sizable chunk of the work in the overall task and then by all means use the word "WE", but don't use "WE" to make yourself "somehow" involved in the work that you have not done. If you want credit and involvement, earn it. Go take up a sizable task now and ship.

If you cannot do that, consider shutting up and letting those who are  driving, get the due credit for their work. If you need "them" to work on something, while you wait for them to complete and play online poker or attend meetings in the meantime, the least you can do is be honest about it and say it with conviction. Seriously.