Communication on the Moon


While watching For All Mankind, an American science fiction series on AppleTV+, Derk-Jan has recognized 3 take-aways that will assist with agile collaboration and communication.

For All Mankind is an American science fiction series that can be watched on AppleTV+. The series dramatizes an alternate history depicting what would have happened if the Soviet Union put the first man on the moon instead of the United States. The series shows a world where the space race has not ended, and the growing tension between east and west results in some confrontations on the moon. In this series, two episodes drew my attention.

In Episode 9 “Bent Bird” we see an American astronaut approaching the mining site the Americans set up. As he walks toward the mine, a Russian cosmonaut steps out of the elevator. This is the first confrontation between a Russian and American moon visitor, and both men are unsure how to respond. In the series we see both men, standing opposite each other, each wearing a moon-suit with helmet on and sunshield down. Since this is the first encounter, there is no radio communication between the two men. They stand in silence trying to read each other’s intentions. Keep in mind that those space suits are thick and clumsy and hide body gestures. The sunshield reflects each in the helmet of the other, and they can’t see each other’s faces. After a few intense moments, one of the men steps back to make way for the other. The confrontation ends without consequence.

In a later episode things escalate quickly. The Americans bring guns to the moon and confront a Russian crew. They make radio contact and command the Russians to leave. Although the technical side of the communication is settled, there is still a language barrier. When one of the cosmonauts reaches for a translation card, this is mistakenly interpreted as a hostile action, and the man is shot.

Both scenes made me think about communication and collaboration in our agile teams. From watching the series, I have concluded that in order to collaborate and avoid disasters, we need to consider these three things.

Technique and Language
We need to communicate. In the series we see that communication requires some technique, represented by a shared radio frequency and a common language. In corporate land we often need to communicate using Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Although virtual communication techniques have improved a lot due to COVID-19 and the working-from-home situation, technique and call quality might still be an issue that impacts proper communication. But even when technology is in order, there are often language barriers. Not only must some people communicate in a language that might not be their mother tongue, people from marketing also often speak a different language than their colleagues from finance, and IT speaks a different language than business personnel. So, there are more language barriers to consider than recognizable at first sight.

Read Moods and Intentions
We need to interpret or read others' moods and intentions. In the series this is difficult as the suits hide gestures, and helmets make it impossible to read facial expressions. This makes it hard for space travelers to judge the moods and intentions of others. In our daily work we communicate a lot by phone, email, and conferencing tools. These communication methods make it more difficult to interpret others’ moods and intentions as well. Do our counterparts really understand what we just told them? Do their reactions seem a little flat because of the poor connection or lack of enthusiasm for our plans? It is sometimes hard to read others' moods, and we should reserve some time to communicate about these things during our meetings.

Trust and Bias
Third—but not least—we need a proper bias. In the second confrontation the Russian cosmonaut reaches for a Russian-American translation card. He wants to communicate. The cosmonaut gets shot because one of the Americans thinks he is reaching for a weapon. At this time in the series the cold war tension is at an all-time high. There is a lot of talk about us and them, and there is no trust, as both see the other as the enemy. No good is to be expected of the other side, so actions are easily misinterpreted. I think this translates to corporate work situations quite well. How often do we refer to a group of colleagues as “them” and how often are we biased in our expectations of the offshore team, the suppliers, or people from support, IT, or management? I think too often there is a lack of trust and a bias in the interpretation of each other’s actions.

So, my binge-watch adventure in space brought me some nice entertainment and some good agile insights. To effectively collaborate we need to take care of technique, consider language barriers, and try to read others’ moods and intentions. But most of all, we should be aware of our personal bias toward the ones with whom we collaborate. Although the people we collaborate with don’t walk the moon in a clumsy suit that hides their gestures and faces, their good intentions might easily be misunderstood with serious consequences.


About the author

CMCrossroads is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.