Energy is high when we return to the office. Any accumulated stress has been taken from our shoulders, and what might have previously caused us anguish is now mere annoyance. But annoyances mount up. How do we get to the end of September, October, or November without that stress building up again?

How can we move through our daily work without feeling like we are accumulating stress?

In his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation", Abraham Maslow proposed that human needs build from a universal base towards more refined feelings and the ability to express ourselves. While used widely in development psychology and management theory, it's still a theory. Real human needs and motivations aren't simply additive otherwise the world would be a very simple, and undoubtedly quite boring place. It would also be a less rich experience for all of us.

Innovation is born in the human spirit. It is innately human to question, push boundaries and ask "why?". Innovation and excellence do not happen through predictability. The elusive "high-performing team" often forms through serendipity rather than planning.

So while we cannot always engineer outcomes, we can react to situations that cause us pain in our work. If we are allowed to, we can influence those around us and our way of working and this might improve the situation for ourselves, our team and our company.

Whether we are a team member, a team leader or a manager, we have a responsibility to our team and ourselves to keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in what we do. To keep asking "why?". By staying the same and accepting things as they are, we don't grow, we don't experience change.

So on returning to the office, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did I do earlier in the year that made me feel good at work?
  • What did I do earlier in the year that I didn't enjoy?
  • How can I do more of the thing that makes me feel good? And how could this help the team I work in?

Progress doesn't have to be big, but progress needs to be steady and in the right direction. I recently gave a talk that leant on the teachings of James Clear's Atomic Habits. You can take his advice and on returning to the office, Just Fix One Thing a day. You will notice results.


Related to this, I've been thinking a lot recently about a certain sentence in Team Topologies around becoming 'Team Toxic' and what that means. I don't think individuals should take the blame for becoming 'toxic' - it's as much a part of the team or organizations behaviour that encourages this. Perhaps toxicity is just someone pushing the boundaries which the rest feel uncomfortable about?

Enjoy your Sunday!

-- Richard

Avoiding Toxicity: How to Manage Cognitive Load

Published on August 23, 2023

Less than a year ago, I read Team Topologies for the first time. I was immediately struck by how it aligned with my experiences of how software engineering organizations become successful. For me, Team Topologies gives unparalleled advice to those leading software organizations to help them design better organizational structures and architectures. Building organizations that… Read More »Avoiding Toxicity: How to Manage Cognitive Load


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