When Slack Becomes a Problem

It’s not the right tool for everything

Suzan Bond
2 min readFeb 1, 2022


Photo by Parker Byrd on Unsplash

Slack is a wonderful tool for collaboration. It allows us to connect asynchronously across time zones. This tool can help us cut down on costly meetings. There’s one Slack usage that indicates a sign of bigger problems — DMs during meetings.

This kind of side conversation is one way I gauge team dysfunction. You’ve initiated or encountered a Slack DM from another participant in a meeting, right? I know it happens because I hear about it often and have been on the receiving end of these messages. Instead of addressing it openly, the conversation enters a private chat on Slack where opinions are shared more freely. We’re occupying the same time and space so we can’t blame schedule conflicts or workload. Making this choice indicates something is amiss.

Sometimes it’s an individual issue. Side chatter can be about personality or style disagreements. We think the other person’s approach to the work or opinion is wrong but we don’t know how to do it with tact. Afraid our opinion might erupt into conflict, we avoid what we perceive to be a confrontation. We disagree with the direction but don’t know how to talk about it or if it’s even our place to bring it up.

Still, be wary of chalking this kind of side chatter as an individual issue. Sometimes it’s a personal issue. More often a flurry of Slack DMs during meetings is a sign team dynamics have turned sour. It might also be a symptom of a larger organizational issue.

What this can indicate when it becomes a common team behavior:

  • A low trust bank
  • Unclear ground rules
  • A culture of fear has set in
  • Lack of clarity on expectations
  • There’s a leadership void
  • A conflict avoidant culture
  • Gossip has become prevalent
  • A need to level up horizontal leadership skills
  • The team doesn’t feel safe having difficult conversations
  • A team that is still forming and unsure of the rules of engagement
  • A focus on getting the work done over how to get the work done
  • We’re working at the wrong…



Suzan Bond

Leadership coach for new technology leaders. Fast Company contributor. Former COO Travis CI. www.suzanbond.com Twitter: @suzanbond