HopperX1NYC Notes: Social Debt with Natalya Sverjensky

What company doesn’t strive to be more agile, innovate faster, and just be more? If you had a computational problem, you could throw more processors at it. But “technology scales, people don’t.” Growing the team adds considerably more complexity in managing relationships, introduces the risk of organizational dysfunction, and adds “social debt” risk when these relationships go astray.

What is social debt?

Social debt is like technical debt, but it’s centered on the human aspect of hastily made decisions and strained relationships.  Read more about it here.

What does social debt look like?

  1. Bottlenecks.  Single points of failures and slowdowns.
  2. Silos. Referring to people as departmental entitles like the “Network Team.”
  3. Noise.  Alerts, notifications, and other distractions.
  4. Burnout.  Lethargy and a disconnect from work.

How to pay down the debt?

Gimmicky ping pong tables, hustling, or relying on one joy-bringing person won’t move the social debt payment bar. Improvement of any kind usually requires some type of measurement or assessment.

What would factors would you need to assess for a prevent or pay down social debt quest? Google’s Project Aristotle, a study focused on defining what factors make up a successful team, might provide the answer. From that study came a five-point framework for assessing the success potential of a team.


Natalya Sverjensky (@natalyasver), this session’s presenter, proposes holding Team Dynamics Retrospectives that assess the five above mentioned areas.

Why Care?

Those are wise words, and a compelling reason for why we should care about team dynamics.  Really, Google’s framework reads like “why people leave jobs” when you find the above criteria in a lacking state.

Additional Resources