Range of Tolerance

✍️ Thomas Countz

When it comes to working on a team, how do we agree on anything? An office policy, a tool choice, a coding style—not everyone can have everything go their way. Of course, some things matter more to us than others, and it’s in-between the things we want and the things we need that we find our range of tolerance .

In biology, range of tolerance is the range of environmental conditions that are survivable for a species. For example, humans, needing oxygen, can survive along a range of atmospheric oxygen concentrations. That range can be plotted on a graph as a bell curve.

Source: unknown.

Too much or too little oxygen, and we enter a zone of physiological stress. Beyond that we reach an intolerable limit where we can no longer survive, (although in some cases we can adapt !).

We can use this as a metaphor for our working environment; everything needs to be within our range of tolerance, though not everything will be optimal.

In our work environment, our range of tolerance for sits along a spectrum between personal preference and personal objection . As individuals, we can place each aspect of our work environment somewhere on this spectrum. For example, it’s optimal for me to have our daily sync meeting at 10 AM, acceptable to me to have it at 9 AM, but outside of my range of tolerance to have it before 8 AM.

We use this concept on one of my teams in the form of an “any objections” vote. When introducing a change (whether in team rituals, coding style, or meeting times), we ask if there are objections, rather than if everyone agrees. By posing this question, we’re asking if the proposal sits within our individual ranges of tolerance while acknowledging that it may not be optimal for everyone.

Considering the ranges of tolerance at work means that we allow some things to be against the personal preferences of some, while not against the personal preferences of others, as long as it’s tolerable to everyone. The next time that you feel yourself resisting your team’s ideas, consider whether you personally object, or if it’s somewhere within your range of tolerance.


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