Since the nights are getting longer and it’s Halloween, let’s talk about going dark. This isn’t about wearing a black costume for trick-or-treating! Going dark is a term used to describe the situation where someone hasn’t communicated in a while. This could be on any topic but mostly for individuals it is about the lack of giving status on how their work is progressing and what blocking issues they have. And for leads and people managers, it can be a lack of communications on many different items around project status, team dynamics, etc. Regular communications is needed to shed light on certain topics. The situation of going dark happens very often because it’s a natural tendency for engineers to be focused on doing the work that generates a lot of results. I usually find that leads who are very knowledgeable and have a lot of experience in running their projects are the ones that go dark most often. When things are going well and there are no issues to report, why report anything? The individual’s justification and thinking is that they are too busy to communicate status and it wouldn’t really help anyway.
That’s where the misconception lies. How does one know what their manager or skip-level manager is thinking, discussing, and deciding? They usually don’t. Potentially they are having conversations about the project you are working on, the progress that has been made on certain work, or other topics in order to determine items such as workload balancing, schedule slippages, etc. And they are making these key, impactful decisions based on the knowledge that they have. So although you may think your status isn’t important, it may be very crucial in managers making better decisions.
The worst place for going dark is in a servicing organization. When internal customer requests come in, there needs to be regular communications back to the customer on the progress of their issue. Many times this didn’t happen because the team was too busy, personalities were too introverted, and the overall thinking was that the customers should know that the support engineers will be working on the issue. But the customer was left hanging, not knowing if their issue was getting any attention. In this case, as in most cases, over-communicating was necessary to fix the mindset of going dark.
Going dark also impacts relationships. Strong, trusting relationships need to be built within a team and across teams. People who are overly introverted or choose not to communication outwardly end up affecting the relationships they have with others.
Whether the communication happens through emails, meetings, or other forms, it needs to occur. If your team is going dark too often, consider being more prescriptive on what the cadence of communications needs to be. Regular communications and not going dark is key to running a successful team and delivering results.