On the face of it, they appear like a distraction. Stay focused, heads down you peasants! But they are not, they are an important function of a well-oiled team.
If the world is a state machine, having a real (not fake) conversation introduces an infinite tree of nested state machines that open doors way down the road you never even fucking knew existed.
Jim (Neutral Good Ranger) was willing to share his team's standup ritual (shared with permission):
We do weird questions of the day in stand-up. Often there are two questions, a more personal question (e.g. what is your favorite childhood memory?) and a much less personal question that no one would know the exact answer to (e.g. what do you figure is the average airspeed velocity of a swallow?) and you choose between them.
We learn about each other, we laugh, it brings out other usually funny stories about people and contributes to building community among us (even when we're mostly remote).
I love it! 💖
The best teams I've been on were full of off-topic conversations, both back when we were in the office and over the past few years of being remote. We even had off-topic Slack channels for our team to shoot the shit about DIY, music, gaming, or food.
And guess what? Many of these co-workers are friends. They moved to different companies. And in a pinch, I'm 100% confident someone would ride to my aid if I needed some work.
Your boss or employer might not "like" OT conversations but fuck that.
Conversations build trust.
Trust deepens relationships.
Trust is the foundation of doing work that matters. It engages employees with one another. It opens the door to more meaningful conversations. It builds empathy. It turns a Zoomful of strangers into cooperative workers. Not everyone will be friends, that's okay, as long as there's a healthy level of mutual respect and understanding.
And for you, it will develop powerful relationships outside of work which you will need later on if you plan to make a transition.
Consider laying the groundwork within your team by creating dedicated spaces like a public channel, private channel, or a group DM for topics that your team talks about often.
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