How to design a team that would produce software of good quality — emotions and interest

Quality strongly depends on the system's efficiency of the information flow — when information flow is effective, losses are lower, and quality is higher.

Efficient information flow implies that parties perform a cognitive function well:

Cognitive function is a broad term that refers to mental processes involved in the acquisition of knowledge, manipulation of information, and reasoning. Cognitive functions include the domains of perception, memory, learning, attention, decision making, and language abilities.

In other words, congitive function plays a key role in determining people's ability to perceive, process and apply new information.

The current scientific body of knowledge also states that cognitive functions are greatly affected by emotions. I've devoted this article to the topic of emotions, namely interest.

One study says:

Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behavior. This attentional and executive control is intimately linked to learning processes, as intrinsically limited attentional capacities are better focused on relevant information. Emotion also facilitates encoding and helps retrieval of information efficiently.

Another study shows a strong correlation between the level of emotion positivity and memory performance:

In two experiments, context memory performance was disrupted when words were presented during negatively valenced film clips, whereas it was enhanced when words were presented during arousing film clips. Free recall of words presented during the negatively valenced films was also disrupted. These findings suggest multiple influences of emotion on memory performance.

Below are a few more examples of recent studies on the topic of emotion's affect:

Example #1:

Positive affect systematically influences performance on many cognitive tasks.

Example #2:

Positive emotional states could reduce switch costs and enhance both types of creative performances

Example #3:

This article reviews evidence indicating that, in most circumstances, positive affect enhances problem solving and decision making, leading to cognitive processing that is not only flexible, innovative, and creative, but also thorough and efficient

Example #4:

Creativity is enhanced most by positive mood states that are activating and associated with an approach motivation and promotion focus (e.g., happiness)

A growing body of scientific knowledge indicates that positive emotions improve cognition, creativity, memory efficiency, etc. while negative emotions and stress have a detrimental effect on cognitive function and memory.

HR departments in modern companies are starting to recognize this data and invest in employee well-being.

The 2021 HR Sentiment Survey found that 68% of senior HR leaders rated employee well-being and mental health as top priorities. Companies are beginning to understand the importance of investing in positive emotions.

While I fully support the management initiatives focused on providing decent work conditions, health support and perks of all sorts, I do believe that the cornerstone is missing — interest:

a feeling or emotion that causes attention to focus on an object, event, or process

Proper attention to interest is lacking in our industry. And interest is a very positive feeling and also crucial not only to software development but is inherently important to homo sapiens striving:

Companies can benefit considerably from designing team culture and processes in ways that provoke interest.

You often see the promise of ‘interesting’ and ‘challenging’ tasks in the job descriptions, but companies rarely fulfill this promise.

How often do you hear ‘it’s impossible to make work interesting for everyone’.

Engineers are paid to solve users’ problems. There is no need to invent complicated or ‘interesting’ tasks; we need to allow people a certain amount of exploratory freedom.

Engineering interest is provoked by solving problems, as opposed to executing tasks. Tasks such as ‘code the payment form’ or ‘paint the button red’ will most certainly become boring as soon as an engineer has finished a few hundred.

If an engineer engages in a direct dialogue with the user to understand the problem, there's opportunity for true creativity in solving this problem.

You all must remember the pure joy of discovery amusement — when you suddenly realise how a certain problem can be solved.

Imagine if an engineer's working day consisted primarily of problem-solving and discoveries, instead of tedious tasks.

What’s even more peculiar:

The motivational function of interest extends to activities that are not inherently interesting or appealing. Interest can bolster motivation to complete tasks that are boring and tedious.

If the team is interested in solving a problem, ‘boring’ tasks are not demotivating anymore.

In addition, there’s a great benefit to having a diverse team — a team of people of different levels of expertise and different specialisation.

There is certainly a chance that some team members have never attempted to solve a particular type of problem. For example, a boring task for a senior developer may be of great novelty to a junior developer. If properly done, learning and teaching can both generate excitement.

There’s also a great benefit to organisational agility in terms of roles: if a backend developer wants to learn frontend skills to help the team solve a user’s problem, the wish should be welcomed. The specialisation should not be forced because of the knowledge overlap helps the team to build a better product.

A great book Exploring the psychology of interest provides more insight into the psychology of interest:

Izard and Ackerman (2000) suggest a motivational function—“interest motivates exploration and learning, and guarantees the person's engagement in the environment
Diverse areas of research demonstrate beneficial motivational effects of interest. Studies of successful adolescents indicate that “undivided interest” promotes the growth of expertise (Rathunde, 1996, 1998, 2001)
research, reviewed in chapter 3, shows that people process texts more deeply and remember the material more accurately when the texts are interesting (Hidi, 2000; Schiefele, 1999)
interest is adaptive because it motivates people to develop diverse experiences that can be helpful when unforeseen events occur (Fredrickson, 1998).
The broaden-and-build model of positive emotions (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001) proposes that interest, like other positive emotions, lacks short-term functions associated with survival. Instead, interest serves long-term developmental goals: curiosity about the new and the possible broadens experiences and attracts people to new possibilities. The broaden-and-build model suggests that interest cultivates diverse experience by orienting people to new and unusual events and facilitates the growth of competence by motivating sustained activity in a specific area.

To sum it up:

  • interest is of essential value to the team morale, motivation, and performance
  • interest bolsters cognitive functions, creativity, learning, and growth
  • interest is provoked by novelty and problem solving, so refrain from giving tasks; help the team solve problems


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