I have sensed conflict in an organization, which works like this:

  • They want to encourage teamwork and good personal relationships
  • They want discuss work-related personal matters and design decisions at work
  • When discussions take very long, the sponsor gets annoyed that "nobody is working"

Now, point 2 is needed for point 1, but point 3 negates point 2, which could potentially harm the main goal of forming good personal relationships.

What is a good solution here? I could imagine something like:

  • Force talk to happen in the kitchen
  • Time-box all discussions
  • Tell people to go back to work when it's "too long already"

For some reason, I don't know which, I don't think that's the best solution.

6 Answers 6


David was right on the spot when me wrote that the output matters (delivered values), so I have nothing else to share than a story.

The company I'm working for have several sites, and I'd like to write about two specific sites: one, where the discussions can be as long as they needed and the other where the sponsors behave as you described. Both sides are productive, but the smarter things come from the site where we can discuss as much as we can. The knowledge sharing is way faster, where you can discuss things. Where the discussion is monitored, the knowledge stays where it is and certain people "own" the knowledge and that's slow and not healthy.

We also realised that talking much may be bad for the company so we trained ourself to stop when it really goes off-topic. Of course we talk about off-topic issues, because they can help us get out of the comfort zone and look at things differently.

My tip: learn when to finish the discussion.

  • Thank you very much for your observation of increased innovation! I would paraphrase your first statement as "It isn't possible for the sponsor to identify which discussion is helpful and which isn't (in short time), thus he should look at the output and let the team decide as long as the output is okay."
    – honk
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 10:02
  • I would put it in a different way. In this situation the sponsor shall do two things: first, trust the team and handle them as adults, who know which conversion will bring the project forward. Second, more focus on the value and less on the micro-management. Personally, I would feel bad if another person would decide, which conversation is valuable, instead of me.
    – Zsolt
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 10:17

This is an opportunity to educate your sponsor. 100% FTE is really somewhere between 45% to maybe 75% truly productive where the balance is unproductive to include socializing amongst other things. 100% truly productive is not achievable and likely detrimental to performance. There is value in socializing but you need to make sure it does not get out of hand.

Also, educate your team. Appearances matter.

Finally, the best indicator of performance is how you are scoring on your metrics. If you are in the green against plan, then you need to work with your sponsor to ease on the micro management.


I think there are a couple of different issues

They want discuss work-related personal matters

If a team member has a personal issue that is impacting their work I don't think there is value in trying to tightly control the discussion. If you do you risk devaluing and demotivating the team member. What you can do is lead the discussion towards solutions rather than just talking about the problem.

and design decisions at work

This is an entirely different animal. Once a design decision is made issues may crop up that force revisiting of the decisions. It is important to make sure all key players get involved in these discussions when needed, and equally that these discussions be documented and communicated to the rest of the team. Without the second part you will lose control of the project due to scope creep, lack of shared assumptions, etc. The need for this documentation should push these discussions to be more formal rather than "water cooler", giving you more opportunity to timebox the discussions so that you can avoid analysis paralysis.

  • thanks for the distinction and the explicit mention of "devaluing and demotivating" which is exactly what I observed!
    – honk
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 10:06

Personally, I don't care in the least how much babble and BS goes on (as long as its civil and generally workplace appropriate), as long as we're meeting our deadlines and producing a quality product. Watch your metrics, enable your employees and manage your project.

The flip side to that is I generally also don't consider giving warnings. If we drop the ball on a project because the team didn't put the effort in, we'll talk about it in our retrospective. If one of my team members isn't adult enough to recognize what needs to be done going forward, they won't remain on my team.

I really dislike all three of your solutions. Each of them fails to treat your team members as adults. Treat your team members with respect, and expect them to perform. A PM isn't a baby sitter and your team members aren't children (well, hopefully not at least).


There is something in your description of the problem that I think is more important that it could appear. This combination of "work-related personal matters" may be significant for the sponsor. He probably doesn't react in the same way when the team is working on design/implementation problems.

In general, if these conversations have a "personal" component they shouldn't happen in front of the sponsor, better in private with the least necessary audience. Also, the team members involved should be very assertive in expressing their arguments to avoid the problem develop into a cyst. For the same reason, these kind of discussions should happen only once if possible and you as the project manager should be able to provide a professional perspective to solve the problem. Maybe you will not be able to solve the differences, because when it's personal, it maybe complex, but at least be able to show what you expect from each team member in order for the project continue in the right track.

The approach of justifying the discussions to the sponsor based on good project progress is fine if you are confident that the situation will still be like that, otherwise, at the very first moment any issue arises, the sponsor will blame you for not anticipating the problem based on the symptoms he had already foreseen, whatever the problem and real causes of it are.


I've been thinking about this question for a bit and something kept gnawing at me with the other answers, and I finally figured it out. They're all great answers, PROVIDED everyone's on the same page about both the goals and the process. And I think that's where the conflict comes from.

First - Discussions are good and necessary. But most of the answers presume that all of the discussions are a) either work-related, b) focused on employee relations, or c) the employees know when to quit and go back to work. In my experience this rarely happens. So I can see the sponsor/Manager getting frustrated.

Second, as a Sponsor, if I saw everyone spending what appears to be considerable time talking, about what may not be project related I would have two initial concerns - a) am I paying for the time by the hour, and b) even if I'm not, it appears that the time estimate was inflated to include time to talking and socializing. So I would wonder in the first case, "am I paying them to stand around and talk about personal issues? and in the second case, "could my project actually be completed sooner than they told me if they were working rather than talking?"

Third - Zsolt made a good point about knowledge sharing. And this point goes to the individual project - but is that part of the project, and is it a necessary part of the process? In other words, for some projects research and collaboration are necessary, for others it's not. so is your project one that requires it, or are the employees doing because they 'want to'?

And here's where the point about alignment comes in - does your sponsor know what goes into making this project work? Do they understand that there may be times when it looks like things aren't being done, but that those time might actually be the most important discussions? Conversely, does the team understand what the particular requirements are on this project? Schedule, scope, etc? Maybe this just isn't the project for a lot of talking and they need to hold for the next one.

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