Introversion and mission statements

We had our tech leads retreat on Friday, including the discussion about "why," and I thought it was excellent, although I'm still trying to understand some parts of it.

Part of why I'm still working on that is, well, you know that introversion thing? I had five and a half hours of meetings on Friday, and the tail end was an intense four and a half hour retreat, during which I was a major participant the whole time. And tried to say some difficult and intense things, both about the "why" conversation that I posted about and about why the tail end of last year was particularly difficult for me.

All that went very well. I was very happy with the overall meeting.

Sometimes, I half-convince myself that I'm overstating the degree that introversion or that interpersonal interaction affects me, or that I'm using it as an excuse to duck out of things that aren't really what I want to be working on. Then I do something like this, and find myself completely dead on my feet at the end of the meeting. Not physically tired, but utterly and completely drained. I went home and did something completely right-brain and creative and needed that so desperately that I stayed with it until two in the morning, slept in today until past noon, and still have, despite a couple of minor attempts, absolutely no capability to write code or focus on accomplishing anything. I'm fairly sure I'll still be feeling the after-effects on Monday and Tuesday.

I'm a little annoyed at having both missed a day of releasing something to the world (I'd managed to post something every day this year until yesterday) and blowing off exercising yesterday evening for only the second time this year. But I think part of coming to terms with what introversion means is being kind to myself about this. That's something Cain talked a lot about in her book, and it's the advice I'd give to any other introvert, but it's something I'm not applying as well as I could. Being an introvert doesn't mean to not do meetings. It means to pick the ones that are important, do them with all your heart, and then be kind to yourself afterwards just as if you'd put in extreme effort to do something quite energetic and difficult. Because you have.

So, I'm trying not to be annoyed at myself. And I think we need to be better about teaching people about this, because apart from Susan Cain, I don't remember many people writing about this, or understanding it. Occasionally there are screeds against meetings, but not a lot of discussion about when it's worth expending the energy, and about how to be kind to oneself and recharge after putting one's energy into the social interactions that are important.

I did want to mention that while retreats seem to have a bad reputation in tech circles (and I've heard of a lot of retreats that I would hate), the ones that we do in our group are great. We spent about an hour talking about the things I posted about on Thursday, then a couple of hours talking about the larger organizational roadmap and searching out things that aren't on our upcoming work roadmap that feel like large missing pieces, and then a couple of hours identifying and enumerating our technical debt and deciding what major pieces of technical debt we're going to tackle in the next six months. It's a lot of concrete, specific discussion of what we're going to spend time on and what we're going to defend resources for by pushing back against other priorities. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, I'd say that these retreats are all about listing vaguely equal things that exceed our total capacity and making the decisions about which of them we're going to do and which of them we're not going to do so that we don't have to keep wasting time on revisiting unresolved decisions.

The actual mission discussion turned into a discussion by each of us of what we most value in work, stated in terms very similar to what I used in my post, and that was wonderful. I found out things about my co-workers that I didn't know, and which will help me a great deal in improving their enjoyment of their work. I think we came away with a better idea of how to support each other in creating that engagement and excitement, and I think that's the best possible outcome. Since, like I said, I think that's the only real mission statement a group should have.

We did, still, talk about having a mission statement anyway. Apparently having a shared statement is really important to people who aren't me. I'm still struggling with this, since it doesn't make sense to me and doesn't feel useful to me. But maybe it's a sort of validation and confirmation that we're allowed to focus on what we care about?

But the group mission statement we came away with isn't about any specific technology and focuses on exactly the things that I care about: elegance, robustness, durability, and solving whatever problems the university has. As part of that discussion, we reached a surprising and really satisfying unanimity of opinion about what values we care deeply about. It's a value statement as opposed to a distillation of job descriptions, so if a mission statement is valuable for other people, that's one I'm quite happy with. Even if I don't understand why people want to have one.

I'm less satisfied with the roadmap and strategic plan for our larger organization, but I'm starting to realize that's because I'm utterly not the target audience and it's not going to engage or interest me. It's more of a marketing statement that's focused externally, and my proper role in that is to try to help ensure that it reflects the enthusiasms and engagement of the line staff, not to try to turn it into a document that will be inspiring for the line staff. Which ties into what I was writing about previously: in my ideal world, these sorts of focuses flow upwards from the people who will be doing the work, not downward from a high-level manager deciding on an inspirational direction.

Posted: 2013-01-26 23:50 — Why no comments?

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-27