Over the years, from junior to senior, I've always difficulty with one particular group of people in office environments ... smokers. Not because of the time they take for their breaks, or the "dirty" habit, or the health risks they're putting themselves at. Hell, I can waste time and put myself at far greater risk in a heart beat. As a non-smoker I just noted that people disappeared for a half an hour several times a day. Huh?! I remember they'd all come back in together, laughing out loud about some silly thing that happened during the break and I sort of envied them.
And for a time it seemed to be a largely positive thing. Whenever there was a problem in the office or with a customer or with a piece of code, it was usually brought to light by the smokers. The smokers invented the Standup Meeting. In fact, they were having two or more stand up meetings than the rest of us daily (and that was before the standup meeting was ever a "thing".)
But after a while, not all the decisions the smokers were making were being shared with the rest of the group. They would return to their desks and press on with their newly minted insights. I know many of us non-smokers would put on our jackets and suffer the Canadian Winter and the smoke just so we could be privy to the conversations. We had to. If we wanted to have a say in the decision making process we had to go outside.
The reality was, the smokers were directing the company.
And there wasn't that many of them either. The ratio of smokers to non-smokers was perhaps 10-20% at most. But they did cover a wide swath of the departments. Sales, marketing, development, QA, senior management, HR ... the smokers usually had a great sample of the entire company. They knew everyone. They would wave and say "Hi" to many of the new people far before the rest of us could. We had to depend on company mixers or "team building events" that might happen once or twice a year.
What were they doing right? They were talking, cross-discipline, about work ... frequently.
Think about that. They pushed themselves away from their desks, in a concerted manner, to go and talk with each other. No one held a gun to their heads. It wasn't a reminder on their calendars. All praise nicotine addiction!
What were they doing wrong? Their conversations were Out-of-Band.
Out-of-Band Communications can be a big problem with any large team. Agile is all about communications and sharing, but after a while the Stand-up Meetings become drudgery, people stop reading the wiki pages and the reports. Peer-programming duos become entrenched, emails get auto-filtered ... and in-person conversations take over. Why? Because anything impersonal is dull as dishwater.
(Yes, stand up meetings are impersonal. Sit down Mr. Agile Consultant)
And please don't think I'm picking on the smokers. They were just how I learned of this phenomena. It's the people that work together in the same department shutting out other departments. It's geographically separated divisions setting their own vision. It's the echo chamber. Replace "smokers" with "coffee fiends" or "gym rats" or "let's go for lunch"-ers ... same result.
Informal groups form and decisions get made. Political lines get drawn and consensus established.
And who can blame them?! Talking to a small group in person is way more satisfying than trying to garner the attention of a faceless sea via electronic tools. Phone calls are always inconvenient for someone.
When your agile project is nothing more than a stack of story codes you've lost the meaning of agile.
This is a tough nut to crack. Are more stand ups the answer? No. But managers need to be aware when these out-of-band communications start to take over and find ways to keep them in the open. Developers need to be aware of the posses they belong to and force themselves to keep them open.
We need more craving-based meetings :) We all need to make a concerted effort to talk to the people in our team/division/company more and when we have an insight, we have to share it. Tiny groups are very powerful things, don't let them become fiefdoms.
Be aware of your out-of-band communications.
To be a better developer, I know this is something I need to work on.