Tech Life Hanging with my tribe

Why I Slack

Earlier this year, I ran a survey to get ideas about how leaders could mobilize. 1311 of you filled out the survey which mean I’m certain the results are full of good ideas and inspiration. It also means I have to mine them.

An obvious mobilization tactic was a mailing list. Sure, it’s old school, but everyone has email and it’d be a low friction approach to gather both current and aspiration leaders. I spoke at MailChimp a few years back, so I mailed the CEO and asked, “What’s the right way to set-up this mailing list?”

To his credit, Ben immediately responded with, “Why don’t you set-up a Slack?”

Right. Duh.

The New Slack Progression

Slack teams are absolutely free to set-up (brilliant), but this makes them 100% disposable (unfortunate). Friends are currently reporting “advanced Slack proliferation” where’ve they filled their Slack client with various teams. I’m currently active on five different teams, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got accounts on another five where the Slack evaluation lifecycle looked like this:

  • Invite arrives. Hooray!
  • First login. Awesome!
  • Introduction. I’m here!
  • Day #2. … so what?

For the teams I’m no longer actively participating in, the rule appears to be if I don’t have a personal connection with the team – either I’m running it, it’s full of close friends, or it’s my work – I’ve no compelling reason to return on Day #2, so I don’t.

I’m currently “running” two teams via Slack: Leadership and Destiny. The Leadership team currently has 1123 members with 100 channels. Destiny currently has 130 members and 16 channels. I consider both teams to be a success primarily because it’s been many weeks (or months in the case of the Leadership channel) daily vibrant conversation continues, the user base is still growing, and, well, I like to hang out there.

There were challenges on Day #2, but let’s first talk about Day #1:

Just a Bit of Social Friction

If you want to join one of the Slack teams, you need to send me an email.

This a laborious task, but one that I believe is essential to getting committed humans in the door. Yes, there is a web application that automatically sends an invite to the interested parties, but I want you to send a mail for two reasons.

First, while it is not necessary, I like when folks tell me why they want to join the team in their email. I don’t ask for this reasoning, but folks often send short stories about how they got into leadership and what they want to learn. While I rarely respond to these mails except with an invite, these brief introductions humanize an otherwise anonymous email address.

Second, practically, I don’t want to be a part of a community where I don’t have the time to personally invite every single human to the conversation.

Slack is not about scale. Over at Leadership, of the 1000+ users, we regularly have 200+ people actively writing on a daily basis. Divide those 200 by the 30+ regularly active channels and you’ve got a manageable set of conversations going on regarding 1:1s, hiring and interviews, presentations – heck – there is even a bookclub.

Choosing to send me a mail and having me manually respond adds just a bit of social friction to the first day, but with each new manual addition to the group, I feel I’m personally adding another human to the mix – not another number.

Make It Their Home

Day #2 is tricky because upon return to the team, the enthusiasm of Day #1 has passed and you realize the channel is full of strangers. There is no curated front page that highlights the interesting things that happened since you were last there.

Here are four Day #2 strategies:

  1. Out of the box, Slack default channels are #general and #random. I’ve added two to the default set-up: #intros and #dailychallenge. The purpose of the first is obvious. Take a moment to introduce yourself – say as little or as much as you like – but, announce yourself to the community. It’s a small bit of ceremony that reminds us that there are humans behind the words.
  2. Slack gives you flexibility in terms of how you configure your team as well as who has access to do said configuration. On both of my teams, I’ve left all of this power in the user’s hands. This has resulted in some brilliant hacks. The Slackbot on the Leadership channel gently corrects poorly used gender pronouns. Over at Destiny, we’ve set-up a bot that looks up Destiny gear for us. By leaving the configuration of Slack mostly up to the denizens of the team, they treat it as they would treat their home.
  3. The first day enthusiasm often spills over into the second day with a simple request, “We should have a channel about X!” My response is a consistent and firm, “Channels are free.” Anyone can create a channel. Yes, this does mean there is a graveyard of channels amongst the 200 channels on the Leadership channel that were active for 24 hours and died, but it means that there are a handful of well-populated channels that have daily active conversations that would not have existed if channels required approval.
  4. On #dailychallenge on Leadership, we post a daily question on the topic of leadership. The point? Give the humans a daily reason to come and converse. After running #dailychallenge for a few weeks, I handed off the baton to an active participant on the channel. Now, each week, a new Slacker runs the challenge for the week only to nominate someone else for the next. This model of an active engaged leader posting an interesting question each week day, #dailychallenge is guaranteed to have a healthy conversation on any given day with a fresh new voice each week.

The Day 2 strategies are designed to connect the community and to put the power of where it goes squarely in the hands of those who best know where to take it.

Why Slack Now?

Slack is IRC. It’s a fresh coat of paint on an idea that has been around since the late 80s. The question is: why now? Why does an idea that has been around for years gain traction now?

For a set of technologies that has been designed to connect us regardless of where we might be on the planet, the Internet is increasing impersonal and hostile.

The signal to noise ratio emitting from massive communities like Reddit or YouTube is awful. Even with legions of well-intentioned humans dedicated to enforcing basic rules of conduct, it’s still work finding the right signal and even when you do, you’re often wading through some of the most offensive parts of human behavior.

I Slack because I like hanging with my tribe. My tribe is a knowable set of humans who not only have common interests, but also shared values. This combination results in healthy and productive discourse with very little effort. There are hundreds of people on both the Slack channels I tend and we’ve had exactly *zero* incidents resulting in someone being removed from the community. This doesn’t mean there haven’t been flare ups, but when that occurs, it doesn’t escalate – it’s debated. It’s resolved. We learn and we move forward.

We’re ready for Slack because we want to feel connected. We want to make the world full of strange people feel more personal. I’m very happy to report in the months I’ve been Slacking that the group of humans I call friends has – for the first time in years – significantly grown.

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14 Responses

  1. Steven Harris 8 years ago

    Most of your references to “channels” here are actually Slack teams. “rands-leadership” is a Slack team, and teams have channels. Accounts are bound to a team, as are channels.

  2. rands 8 years ago

    Yup, you’re right. Fixed.

  3. Two comments:

    First, I’ve been noticing a near-universal confusion about channels vs. teams, both among heavy Slack users and journalists. I think this underscores the complexity and novelty of the Slack-like mental model.

    Second, how do you feel about using Slack for free? Let’s make it a multiple choice question:

    A. I know it costs Slack Technologies a ton of money to maintain our free team. I expect big, rich companies to subsidize our usage.

    B. I’m well-aware of the costs associated with operating something like Slack. I’d be happy to pool $X/month for a community edition, but it doesn’t exist.

    C. It’s not about Slack—it’s about the new approach to communication it brought to light (IRC for mortals). If Slack dies, its niche will be filled out by a very similar free product—we will use that one until it dies, and so on.

    D. Slack says it’s free, so we use it. As advertised.

  4. Steve Bennett 8 years ago

    Just a brief comment to thank you for taking the time to start the leadership slack team.

    I’ve found it super-useful being able to chat (and lurk) on conversations around leadership and management.

  5. McDev 8 years ago

    I love this. I think the biggest issue with Slack at the moment is on-boarding. It’s a little tough to rollout to people who aren’t technical. Keeping their attention can be tough.
    Frankly, the ‘killer app’ at my org has been /giphy – people see that, get a laugh and suddenly they’re exploring new features.
    Also of note: threading of conversations is confusing initially – perhaps a wizard type interface for new users that prompts then when they post (‘did you mean to reply to a comment’) or even a ‘reply’ item alongside Reactions would be nice.

    Also, after typing this i threw it into my sites /feedback. Cant hurt.

  6. Thanks for sharing this … I feel a lot of things in common with your “view’ on Slack.

    The only thing that’s missing is a sense of non-owning anything on the community and the resources shared (and catalogued) by your group discussing a topic. Also you can’t export anything and move it elsewhere if you need (that’s why I’ve stopped using Path for example).

    At least with IRC I can have a log of what’s being said and from who (and when). And I am also sure that there will be no unfortunate management that take everything down from a “fusion” or a bad founding.

    Do you think it’s silly of me worrying about those topics?

    P.S. = merry Christmas!

  7. Thanks for writing this. Happy to see that your flare ups have resolved themselves. Do you have a Code of Conduct for either of the teams?

  8. Bob Thomas 8 years ago

    …is this actually real?

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  12. I like your point about day two. I find this true, even with in effect paid groups on a course that they feel the floor is too open or conversation moves too fast.
    Getting people to talk is so important to getting them to come back, and mostly because of a personal connection to that person.
    From my experience I like groups where a main channel for questions or chat is always active, so I know people are there, but the room I go to (often only notice one per “slack team”) ticks over at a pace you can keep up with only checking every day or two. It means you notice the other people and much more team dynamic.