For a smallish team, communication and teamwork is usually smoothest when sitting in the same room. But, as the team grows, every person adds to the general noise and fuss levels in the room. People don’t just bring the noises they themselves make into the room. Every person also brings in more phone calls, visitors and spontaneous discussions.
We currently have 11 people sitting in the same room and I have to admit that at times our working environment is pretty hectic. We don’t get a lot of phone traffic, but it’s quite common to have a few conversations going on simultaneously accompanied by sound effects that state our latest hourly automatic test results. Luckily most of the team members are not easily disturbed, and don’t seem to be having concentration problems too frequently. The issue does come up at times though, and there has been one major “innovation” that has helped us a lot - Silent Hour.
Our daily scrum meeting is at 11.00 every day. After that there usually are some more discussions going on for a while, and then we go for lunch. Later, in the early afternoon, generally the most productive time of the day starts. To make sure it is used to the fullest, we have our Silent Hour (which actually lasts for 2 hours). We ourselves shut up (pair work with low-volume discussion is ok) and move any conversations to our IRC channel or out of the room, into the kitchen or a meeting room. A STOP sign on the door stops wannabe-visitors and asks them to lure whoever they want to talk to out of the room. Phones go silent as well.
We’ve had Silent Hours since last summer. At first we were afraid that our visitors might not appreciate it, but generally there have been no issues. Of course, every now and then someone just marches into the room to state their business and needs to be guided out, but surprisingly there have been no complaints over that. Actually, one co-worker thanked us for having the Silent Hour info on the door because it implicitly says that it’s OK to visit us outside the Silent Hour.
Sometimes we have forgotten to be silent ourselves. Still, the value of Silent Hour is verified by the fact that it hasn’t been forgotten for more than one day at a time.