Community Management Wiki

Antipattern: The Water Cooler[]

Symptom: Discussing things in public can be hard. Why send an email to a mailing list and wait a few hours for an answer, when you can just ask your colleague two doors down and have your answer right now? Doesn't it make more sense to take a pad & pencil & figure out how to do something while hanging out at the water cooler, rather than have to explain it over & over again to a mailing list with wide distribution, exposing yourself to all sorts of bikeshedding & stop energy? Isn't it better to ask for forgiveness than permission?

If you've found your team deciding more & more about the direction of your project in person, or via personal rather than archived public discussion, you may have been infected by water cooler syndrome.

Treatment: Sometimes small workgroups are the answer, but those workgroups should be working in public, with their work archived. Build a glasshouse. Protected wiki pages and moderated mailing lists are two ways to protect your group from "noise" while getting things done in a way that anyone can follow afterwards. Even more effective than technical controls are social controls where a reputation economy has built up, and community leaders have the courage to say "The design is owned by Johnny, and he has said where he stands on this. Further debate is wasting the time of everyone involved, please stop".

Related to:

  • Decision paralysis and Bikeshedding- in the absence of a good decision making culture, water-cooler discussions becomes a tempting way to get things done
  • Nepotism - Water Cooler groups look like cliques from the outside in spite of good intentions