October 23, 2019

Discussing the Elephant in the Room — using a chat bot in Slack

There’s always an elephant in the room: Do we all believe in this product vision? Are we making a big strategic mistake? Is Abbie’s departure really going to be okay? Should we be focussed on marketing or customer re-engagement? Nobody wants to be “that guy” throwing a spanner in the works. So we’ve built a bot to do it for you.

There is always an elephant in the room

Modern teams don’t work together for division of labour; they work together for the benefits of interaction. People and companies progress by doing A Clever Thing at each step. And the Clever Thing comes out of debating multiple ideas and picking a good one. There are always hangovers from these debates: maybe Beatrice went along with Second Cleverest Thing because she is an agreeable person and didn’t want to argue any more. Maybe Charlie realised on her train home that Abbie was probably right. How do Charlie and Beatrice bring these questions up?

It’s awkward

Look, nobody wants to jump in and say “Hey, I know we went over this like a million times, but should we re-think this company tagline? Just me?”

Even in a team with great relationships and trust that they’ll be heard out (that’s called psychological safety), it’s awkward.

We need to talk about…

Every doubt is an opportunity to not mess up, to do A Clever Thing instead of A Stupid Thing. They need to be talked about, so it needs to be not awkward.

There’s a bot for that

We were facing our very own “elephant in the room” moment last week. So we built www.elephant.chat to help. Elephant is a chat bot for Slack (a messaging platform, if you’re not using it: probably start today).

[Editor's update: Elephant Chat has been shutdown - the learnings from this experiment have been incorporated into CoachBot]

Elephant:

  • takes a question from somebody in an instant message
  • anonymously pings that question out to the rest of the team by instant message
  • gives everybody a chance to answer anonymously by instant message
  • brings all the responses back together into a word cloud
  • shows the aggregate responses back to everybody who answered

Like this:

I want to ride an elephant!

Sure, no problem! Elephant is in technical preview mode right now, meaning he functions but with no guarantees!

Just sign up at www.elephant.chat and follow us on twitter to stay updated (or if you want to talk to humans before the bot) @elephantchatbot

[Editor's update: Elephant Chat has been shutdown - the learnings from this experiment have been incorporated into CoachBot]

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