Making the Unspoken Spoken "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs January 01 2020 True product management, Product Management Skills, product teams, team building, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 632 Product Management 2.528

Making the Unspoken Spoken


In this excerpt from her recent book, The Team That Managed Itself, Christina Wodtke looks at how teams can deal with the office housework jobs that no one wants to take on.

Within teams, there are the spoken roles, as in designer, marketer, engineer, etc. There’s also a host of additional unspoken roles. There will be a facilitator, a person who takes notes at the meeting, a person who organizes the office party or the retreat, and a hundred other small tasks and roles that won’t be on anyone’s official job description. And yet, you can’t do without them.

I like to call these tasks the office housework. Nobody wants to do these things – they take up time and energy and are usually thankless. Over and over again, unless there’s a plan otherwise, studies show that women end up with most of the office housework. If there’s a woman on the team, even if she’s an engineer, she is still asked to organize the Christmas party and she still takes notes at meetings. Why is that?

There’s a host of unspoken roles within a team (Image: Shutterstock)

So when we set up our team norms, we also need to list all the office housework and set up a schedule to rotate the housework logically. There’s this saying about domestic housework that applies here: “Everybody hates housework. Mommy hates housework. Daddy hates housework. I hate housework, too. But it’s just better if everybody does it together and gets it out of the way.” If you let the housework sit with one group out of knee-jerk bias, hidden resentments build. The anger builds to the point it fractures teams and destroys any progress you’re making toward diversity as well as most progress you’re making on your goals.

When we set up our team norms, we also need to list all the office housework and set up a schedule to rotate the housework logically.

People avoid dealing with the issue because they believe it’s easier to make assumptions and move on rather than deal with conflict. But hidden resentment compounds over time until it costs you exponentially more. It’s like buying a refrigerator in cash versus a small monthly payment. An $800 refrigerator kills your budget and you eat ramen for a month or two. Then you’re done. Paying a little bit each month doesn’t hurt as much, but in the end you’ve paid $1,700 for a refrigerator that should cost $800. It’s far better to take the initial hit than to let the resentment collect interest.

Bring up the team roles and office housework as part of your norms. The tall guy shouldn’t always make the decisions. The women shouldn’t always take the notes. Instead, decide first how to decide, and then decide who does what and how. If the leader decides, who’s the leader? If we say we come to consensus, how do we make sure everyone’s voice is heard? What does that mean? If there are elements to the roles beyond what you were hired for, how do we portion those up fairly? What’s the office housework and how do we deal with it fairly? When you make the unspoken spoken, everyone will ultimately be happier.

Or you could bicker and snipe at each other and hobble your progress for months, I suppose.

See Christina at MTP Engage Hamburg

Helping to form an impressive line-up of keynote speakers, Christina will be taking to the stage at MTP Engage Hamburg on June 26. She joins Jeff Gothelf, Dries Depoorter, Georgie Smallwood, and others. To find out more, or buy your ticket, visit our MTP Engage Hamburg page.