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Close the Loop

There are some things that make working on the Loop team an absolute pleasure. We really enjoy spending time together, and as a group we genuinely strive to be better friends, teammates and engineers. Coming in to work on a Monday is something we genuinely look forward to. As a new hire, I am told that this isn’t a characteristic Microsoft experience. I think that’s a shame, and that we should all be doing something to try and fix this, because we spend far too much time at work to not enjoy the work we’re doing or the people we’re doing it with. It’s simply more fun and more productive.

With the outcome being so appealing, it’s a question of how rather than why. And indeed, the prospect of changing the very nature of how we interact isn’t easy. It’s something we struggle with on the team as well, and it’s all too easy for our egos to take over and lead us to act from a place of defensiveness and separation. But we’ve found that moving the needle a little bit goes a long way, and if we catch ourselves in the moment and observe these negative feelings before they happen, the situation becomes an opportunity for learning and growth for everyone involved. And through many of these struggles a real connection starts to form.

One of the cornerstones of our team’s culture is Close the Loop. This is a meeting we have every week, where we sit in a circle and talk about how we felt about the week. After a long week, the first thing on all of our minds is the progress we’ve made on our respective projects, but this meeting creates space to put that behind us and go deeper. First to get in touch with how we’re really feeling, then to identify why, and then to figure out how we want to share it with the group, if at all. The only real guidelines are to be as present as possible, and to really listen to what each other has to say. It’s amazing how badly we want to speak in everyday life and how hard it becomes once everyone’s actually listening.

Someone felt ashamed that they should have dealt with an alert more promptly and worried about judgement from teammates. Another had an argument with their significant other the previous night and couldn’t sort out who was being the real jerk, or if it even matters. Someone felt targeted by the group when everyone else thought it was all in good fun. These are all vulnerabilities that create distance between people when internalized, but draw people closer together when shared. It’s amazing the sense of connection that just sharing and listening can create.

We see articles all the time that talk about the benefits of mindfulness, presence, creating a good workplace culture, and so on, but it’s almost guaranteed that their central points will be agreed with and promptly forgotten. The biggest benefit of Close the Loop is that it’s a weekly ritual, a constant force of struggle in our lives that allows us to take enough small steps to actually make tangible progress. And sharing this journey together just makes the bond stronger.

I'm not saying that we're perfect, or that everyone needs to rush out and start doing their own version of Close the Loop. The important thing is the fact that this type of practice is extremely valuable, and has to be felt to be fully understood. I'm excited to see how more of these types of experiments transform going to work into something we all value at an emotional as well as an intellectual level. Huge props to Steve and Lawrence for pioneering this practice and creating the culture that subsequently sprung forth.