Something that makes a team friendly to the neurodiverse is acknowledging that everyone has a story and it’s a gift when it’s ours to know; we shouldn’t expect to know everyone’s story though.
To make a safe place where people feel like they belong, such words need to be backed up with deeds that account for what different folks might need; specifically folks who process information in different ways, at different speeds and intervals. That’s not just the neurodiverse; that’s everyone with communication differences (linguistic, cultural, technical vs. business lingo contextual).
I’m mindful that I work with a team is strongly motivated by our mission. We really believe what we work on is helping real people in fractal ways: the thing we address with our work we know leads to better patient outcomes, and our customers tell us they see that happening, which fuels us ride out the grind of work that is valuable to the business, not necessarily to our customers or to their/our individual and collective career goals. We survive on that feeling of “our cause is just,” but that alone would only take us so far. There’s a finite amount of belief in the mission without results, agency and/or continued investment.
To thrive, it takes constant maintenance, and that can be anywhere from boring to painful to downright hard.
That we’re all bought in on our mission gives us a shared context to help root my team, but sometimes coaching is needed to help us navigate around some differences. Things that could be mistaken for “personality differences” are sometimes linguistic bias. Whenever/wherever there’s tension, all sorts of communication challenges (in the short term) can damage that feeling of belonging (in the long term). I grew up around and taught in schools where kids’ primary language was Spanish, so I’m increasingly sensitive to how miscommunication impacts a team and a classroom.
It’s important to try to address these things without blame, creating the space for people to hold themselves accountable. Most people want to work well together. I focus on processes and transactions/handoffs and ways we can improve inputs and outputs. I try to coach in actionable ways when people are kinda apart and the team needs the structure and on-ramp to get back to working together well. We have incredible Delivery Management on the job and I follow a lot of their best practices when I swap in to facilitate different ceremonies. So, much like doing continuous deployment, at least this work isn’t usually reactionary; much of the time we’re dealing with things as they happen; and we do continuous improvement.
Architecture will come out of nowhere with new platform requirements, and while we may have a long time to do it, we make a plan and get it done as soon as possible. Capitalizing on a major sales opportunity might require a surprise integration no one really planned for. Accommodating the changing needs any of my team is really no different. There’s always going to be a life thing, a career thing, a family member who needs care. Everyone on the team is a person and for people to work together as a team, I take a cue from Dee Hock, in that (especially considering the work of precision learning) I encourage us to keep asking ourselves “better questions. If this institution were to self-organize, in effect, to design itself, it would require continual consensus.”
My job is to try and say yes to smart people and be their advocate. Continual consensus requires trust, solid communications and a working reality that everyone on the team is a stakeholder, has agency, has a say in how we do our work. In the case of a data product, that means we’re gonna be learning together, and growing a little too.