How Osmotic Communication Uses The Subconscious

osmotic-communication-uses-the-subconsciousWhile the practice of agile requires a “Caves and Common” setup of teams, there is a reason for it. Mainly it’s to make sure communication is ongoing and regular. This requires a specific setup of office equipment and overall layout within the workplace. The “Caves” aspect refers to a place where some team members have the occasional place or space to work alone for a short or brief period of time, while “Common” is the area where most team members spend their time with the rest of their team for the majority of time in their day.

The Importance of Closeness Among Team Members

Agile practitioners would agree Osmotic communication takes place in most part within the “Common” space as everyone is communicating without barriers whereby conversations and discussions occur freely. The principle behind osmotic transmission and absorption of team members’ conversations implies that we acquire knowledge even if we are not an active participant in any particular conversation. Much like a song playing in the background, even if you don’t know the name of the song, if heard regularly over time, you may just be able to know the melody or lyrics without even trying to memorize them. How this actually is made possible is explained through the way our minds work on a subconscious level. It can be compared to a radio that is always on while the antenna is picking up frequencies at all times.

Much of what we do throughout the day, our daily routines, product purchases, learning habits, and inner thoughts are a result of our subconscious taking over very important aspects of our lives. Although it’s not easily explained, osmotic communication works on a highly metaphysical level. It provides a collective result, a lot of what teamwork provides only when they are in the same location, and not otherwise. This is mainly why the success of an agile team should not be given credit to any one particular member, but rather the collective effort of the entire team.

Osmotic Communication Effectiveness

The key idea behind making osmotic communication effective however, is that the communication should be within hearing distance of any or all team members on a regular basis. Without that, the knowledge sharing and subliminal absorption aspect gets chopped up. Using the radio frequency example, it’s similar to getting only some channels but not all, or a channel with a lot of static. This is how the subconscious mind works, it’s always on and absorbing without effort. It’s important when considering the physical team’s layout, especially in today’s work environment as many teams are known to be located remotely from each other, or with specific members working alone but connected online.

It’s no secret, a team that works together in the same physical space will communicate more efficiently either because of their added ability to listen in to each other’s conversations as well as read their body language. Compare this to a team whose majority of members are located remotely, there’s a big loss on the quality of communication. It becomes increasingly difficult to know if someone is actually being sarcastic or serious without having to see their facial expressions or body language. This is why conflict created among remote members for any particular team could escalate very quickly. They couldn’t possibly be (or become) an agile team with that factor to overcome.

[Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at]

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