Is Slack hurting our Brigade's organizational cohesion?

culture--core-values
organizing
tools

#1

Note from poster: I didn’t initiate this conversation. Since threads can’t be /discoursed, and because I found the question compelling, I’m pasting this thread here. The question was first asked by @carlvlewis. @watrickpoods (not sure of their discourse name), @ninakin, and myself, @Michelle_B got into the conversation after that.

@carlvlewis [12:45 PM]
As many of you know, I’m not a fan of Slack (at least for our brigade). I know that tools are what we make of them. I know that it’s important to use as many different platforms for communication as needed. I know that it’s important to meet people where they are. But increasingly I worry that Slack is hurting our organizational cohesion. We have two distinct groups emerging– those who use Slack, and those who don’t. We’ve tried all sorts of ways to bridge the two, but we just can’t quit Slack. I keep wondering to myself if all the knowledge in Slack silos were somewhere more permanent, it would address so many of the communication gaps we experience. But no matter how much we try to nudge away from it, a core group of members keep going back to Slack

@carlvlewis [Today at 12:46 PM]
in #brigade
So, my question for group advice: Should we just close the Slack channel for our Brigade? Is that too draconian?

@watrickpoods [4 hours ago]
maybe it’s the classic “programmers are terrible at documentation” thing? Maybe we need scribes to record the conversations, extrapolating what’s important.

@carlvlewis [4 hours ago]
Yes, but that requires added human capital. It requires translators. Good translators who live in both worlds – the slack world and the non-slack world – are few and far between when it comes down to it. Those of us who are translators are already at capacity with other civic committments.

@ninakin (NAC) [4 hours ago]
i feel like some people really take to online communication and others don’t. i’ve had the same problem with trying to get people on slack. i think i’ve underestimated how big of a role online messaging, chatrooms, and forums have played in my life from a young age. And it really hasn’t for others. (edited)

@carlvlewis [4 hours ago]
@ninakin (NAC) You just articulated my feelings in a way I couldn’t.

@ninakin (NAC) [4 hours ago]
same thing with github. i’ve been trying to push project groups to document (meeting notes, etc.) in github so it’s open and accessible

@ninakin (NAC) [4 hours ago]
i have no answer for that gap :cry:

@ninakin (NAC) [4 hours ago]
yet

@carlvlewis [4 hours ago]
recently, for example, we made a decision about a leadership mtg. via Slack. everyone but two of us participated. i forgot to send out the email calendar invite right away. the next day, when i sent the invite, the two who weren’t present on slack both said they couldn’t make it, and one was very vocal in the (valid) critique that we need to stop communicating in “closed spaces”
@ninakin (NAC) [4 hours ago]
The “closed spaces” thing is why i lean towards documenting convos on github or a forum. but we still have the problem of participants needing to take the active step to GO TO where the convo is taking place.

@ninakin (NAC) [3 hours ago]
and that requires that they are internally driven to remember to do it

@carlvlewis [3 hours ago]
@ninakin (NAC) It’s precisely that lack of an answer that has led to the thinking that just shutting the slack team might be the only real way to move the conversation elsewhere. Nudges aren’t working.

@ninakin (NAC) [3 hours ago]
versus something like a group text message where it intrudes into their space.

@carlvlewis [3 hours ago]
Yes

@ninakin (NAC) [3 hours ago]
maybe it’s an expectation issue? have everyone agree to the means of communication and the schedule. get them to set up calendar reminders to check the communication channel. establish that this is what is expected of them as part of leadership?

@carlvlewis [3 hours ago]
I guess some better segmenting might work to curb some of that.

@carlvlewis [3 hours ago]
yes, and to be honest, we haven’t set hard and fast expectations re: that, mainly because we’re leery of forcing any style of communication onto volunteers.

@carlvlewis [3 hours ago]
it goes against the whole “open organization” mindset somewhat. or i’m just overanalyzing. like usual.

@ninakin (NAC) [3 hours ago]
same, totally agree

@ninakin (NAC) [3 hours ago]
but i think it’s acceptable as an organization matures, even a volunteer one

@ninakin (NAC) [3 hours ago]
so that you create the space for someone with the time/capability to step up into leadership.

@carlvlewis [3 hours ago]
this is definitely growing pains :stuck_out_tongue:

@ninakin (NAC) [3 hours ago]
we all feel it :sweat_smile:

@carlvlewis [3 hours ago]
it’d be cool if i could archive this thread using /discourse post n

@carlvlewis [3 hours ago]
doesn’t work on threads :disappointed:

@ninakin (NAC) [3 hours ago]

_<

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
If you want, I’ll copy paste :wink:

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
I mean it, though.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
that’s not the point lol

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
if everyone were that mindful, @Michelle B, the world would be a better place. :slightly_smiling_face:

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Yeah, I figured that, but I do think this conversation is an awesome one.

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Hehe.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
sure, why not?

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
we need a discourse emoji.

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Heh

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
If you weren’t to do Slack, you’d presumably have physical meetings. That would exclude some people as well, especially people with certain circumstances. In any ‘meeting’ situation, you’ll have people who can attend the meeting and people who can’t. It’s a different problem than the one of what medium to use to communicate.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
i think the difference is that physical meetings are announced ahead of time usually?

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Oh, yeah. If you’re going to be making decisions, it’d need to be in a meeting that’s announced.

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
If it’s going to be via Slack, it still needs to be announced.

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
It may not be the medium that you’re struggling with, but instead the practices around communicating in general.

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Also, I will say that, though it’ll be great to have this discussion in the discourse, I don’t think it could have actually happened this way through discourse. They each have their strengths.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
discourse (if self-hosted like we do ours) has chat plugins, FWIW

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
the CfA one is currently not self-hosted; it’s using a free hosted plan as it’s in pilot

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Nice. I just mean that if someone was using that as their sole way of communicating, they wouldn’t be able to be part of the same kind of discussions.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
**nonprofit plan

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
true though

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
It’s going to take a bit to format this properly for discourse, so I’ll do it when I get back.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
and therein lies the problem ha

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
no worries. the friction you identified is important to note.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
how can we ever expect less-engaged people to take an action when it has unnecessary friction?

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
:man-shrugging:

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Are the less engaged people the ones who are upset about the meeting?

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
not strictly no. it’s more of an issue of how the tools integrate with their work/life.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
slack is great if you work a 9-5 desk job.

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
What I mean is, if someone’s less engaged, it seems like they’re less likely to participate in whatever means of engagement is provided.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
I get your point totally.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
But we all start somewhere on the engagement ladder, no?

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
(as in, maybe they’re not currently engaged but they might become more engaged)

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
I’m not saying that there aren’t folks in the middle - folks who, with a different tool, would be able to more fully engage, but you can say that about any means of organizing.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
true.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
just trying to tackle a very complex topic. exclusion.

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Maybe the question is actually what method of organizing works best for our current situation and the people we’re trying to facilitate.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
well that’s the problem. it’s divided.

@carlvlewis [2 hours ago]
so yes it is the question lol

@Michelle B [2 hours ago]
Definitely complex, and we may not find a definite answer, but I think it’s important. (edited)

@carlvlewis [1 hour ago]
when we started, we were smaller, and had a more slack-esque composition. now that we’re growing into a more broad community organization, it’s changed.

@Michelle B [1 hour ago]
If the mode of communication is split right now, it may be worth sitting down with people and having an explicit discussion about where people are at.

@Michelle B [1 hour ago]
If, after that, there are still outliers in the various groups, I’d think either some people will have to be more uncomfortable (it happens) or you’ll need people or tools that can be bridges.

@Michelle B [1 hour ago]
For example, people who work better through email could set their notifications to the highest setting for whatever Slack channel(s) with which they want to stay connected.

@Michelle B [1 minute ago]
To be clear, though, this isn’t from research, these are just my thoughts.


#2

I wonder if it might be worth thinking about Slack in two different contexts: The brigade as a whole and individual brigade projects

I don’t know about other Code for Philly organizers, but I’ve noticed that I’ve ended up using Slack as a crutch for actually talking to and onboarding people. I’ll meet new potential members and tell them “just join our Slack and say hi!”, but now our #general is full of people joining and no one saying hi but the bot I made :-/

Maybe the pros/cons shake out differently though when it comes to whether projects use a slack channel to collab remotely?


#3

I agree about looking at the brigade separately from individual projects. I’m not sure if this is what you mean, but I see the brigade as a whole as a project of its own, just with different goals, needs, and resources. It seems to me like each brigade would have to figure out what worked best for their members and evolve over time as their membership changes, much like an individual project might.

(Sorry for the following ramble. I didn’t have time to edit much.)

As for the tone of a channel, I know my project’s got a bit of it going, but it’s still a struggle. I think if you’re hoping to use Slack, you have to be very deliberate about building up a culture of behavior for it. If you find you’re having a lot of PMs/DMs with people, working to bring conversations back to the main channel might help. I think if you want the main channel to be a place where conversations happen, people need to see them happening there and become comfortable with bringing their own there too. It can be intimidating to post conversationally on a main Slack channel, even with other folks conversing there too.

Barring anything else, I think it usually needs at least one person shepherding the effort. If a new person says ‘hi’, there needs to be at least one human that will say hi back and then engage more deeply. Again, in my mind that engagement should ideally happen on the main channel.

I will say that the CfA Slack is one of the few places I’ve seen where plain old ‘what’s up’ discussions seem to happen publicly. I still haven’t figured out the various magics of each of those channels. Is it that enough people have met each other in person? Is it that there are just so many people on that you’re bound to have a few who are just that virtually gregarious? Is it a large enough channel that most people feel more anonymous and more free to talk? If so, I don’t think that’s how the CfA one works. Is it the hard work of establishing what feels like a safe space for folks? Is it the creation of a channel that deliberately has no goal specified?

For everywhere else, I’ve found that open-ended questions tend to fizzle. Sometimes members will show up that are excited to engage in those, but that seems rare. Think about chat channels that you’ve been on that have a lot of chatter. Those that I’ve been on have a very specific purpose that’s pretty technically focused with people who are asking very well-contained questions. Their subjects seem to generally focus on information - language (js, english), an api (react, d3), a subject (usually an easily quantified one, like math), a skill (video games, diy), etc. Sometimes they’re used for announcements. Anything less concrete seems to generally happen individually, like a blog post, or collaboratively irl.

What have other folks experienced? How’s that for concrete :wink:


#4

That’s the sign of a successful use of Slack.

Locally, we have a regional tech/entrepreneurship Slack team. We got started out as channel in that team. Then we felt we were crowding alll the space as we grew. Then we started our own. It’s okay, but I feel like we either use it too much at times or that we don’t make use of it as we should for new people.


#5

Ie no “get to know you” group interactions.


#6

I like that idea, but that implies that there are steps to take to get there. Identifying those steps would be really useful. Every team/situation is different, but do you know what specific factors played into making that work for your team in that situation?


#7

Making a quick social connection to newcomers to say hi is probably a good place for Slack to add value. CfP’s laddr instance waves and says hello to each user in our #general channel when they join and gives them a prompt:

Some people do take advantage of that opening (and I think there’s value in giving people express permission in this way to talk about themselves in this big channel) but it’s a pretty small ratio overall. One member of our leadership team used to make a point to always follow up with a personal note on top of the bot and we saw way higher engagement then. It wasn’t sustainable to keep that as one person’s job as we rolled into a new leadership team though and we’ve ended up in a bystandard situation where no one really does it now. I think it would be really good to develop some kind of Slack-norm around someone in the community saying hi to each and every newcomer, such that everyone in the community feels empowered and authorized to try to be the first.

Maybe our bot could keep track of how many times a member is the first human to tag a new joinee and give them some kind props or points? Not that I think people want to work for points, but I think there’s plenty of people who would already like to play greeter and there’s value in making it clear that our community values such actions and that everyone is encouraged to put on that hat


#8

If that doesn’t work, or isn’t appealing, it could be something more mundane instead. Each week a different member would volunteer set up their alerts to detect new people coming on and then say hi. Then they would turn off the alerts until their turn came around again. The alerts are important. People’ll never remember that it’s their turn.