Self-Directed Work and Free Will (More On the Agile Enlightenment)

In a recent article in the New York Times, John Tierney discusses Free Will and Determinism.  One line inspired me to consider this in the context of what I view as a possible new Enlightenment taking place in business right now in the form of the adoption of Agile working methodologies.  That is:

…the higher the workers scored on the scale of belief in free will, the better their ratings on the job.

One of the fundamental operating principles of Agile methodologies is the idea of self-directed teams.  Agile moves away from the carrot-or-stick mentality towards collaboration.  I need the copy to complete my layouts; the writer needs strategy to complete the copy; the strategist hears and understands and works with both because now s/he understands what they need to make the team’s shared goal.  I don’t need someone beating me with a stick to get me moving; I don’t need a raise for “making it happen” even though I didn’t have what I needed.  The team just needs to collaborate. And the erstwhile project manager, now the “ScrumMaster” facilitates all of us talking.  We might not even really need the ScrumMaster every single time.

Where, but in collaboration, can we have a strong sense of free will, of deciding to work together?

Tobias Mayer on his Agile Anarchy blog talks about the role of the Individual and Free Will in this way (and don’t get scared by the word “anarchy,” please):

Both the anarchist and the agilist believe that real change does not come about through compliance and coercion, cannot be commanded from on high, but begins at a grass roots level, with the individual.  Each one of us is responsible for change.  That is our beginning.

He then goes on to provide several quotes – and this one stood out for me:

“Anarchism, to me, means not only the denial of authority, not only a new economy, but a revision of the principles of morality. It means the development of the individual as well as the assertion of the individual. It means self-responsibility, and not leader worship.” Voltairine de Cleyre

Interestingly enough, I think this provides the paradox I am getting stuck on in the debate between The Big Idea and Collaborative Ideation (or Making Ideas that Do).  In the world of the Big Idea we tend to find a hero and engage in “leader worship.”  We find Greats – like George Lois.  In the world of collaboration, maybe we find more of what Alistair Cockburn calls “ordinary heroes,” people who pick up a task that needs to get done just because they can, just for good citizenship, just because they’re on the team.

To add to my puzzling, I have David Brooks recent opinion piece in the New York Times.  He talks about how sports team playing home games have a competitive advantage and how this works on so many different levels.  Think about this:

If you want a person to work harder, you should offer to pay on the basis of individual performance, right? Not usually. A large body of research suggests it’s best to motivate groups, not individuals. Organize your people into a group; reward everybody when the group achieves its goals. Susan Helper, Morris Kleiner and Yingchun Wang confirm this insight in a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. They compared compensation schemes in different manufacturing settings and found that group incentive pay and hourly pay motivate workers more effectively than individual incentive pay.

In another example, from Joachim Huffmeier and Guido Hertel / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a study examines why groups magnify individual performance:

They studied relay swim teams in the 2008 Summer Olympics. They found that swimmers on the first legs of a relay did about as well as they did when swimming in individual events. Swimmers on the later legs outperformed their individual event times. In the heat of a competition, it seems, later swimmers feel indispensible to their team’s success and are more motivated than when swimming just for themselves.

My emphasis:  “than when swimming just for themselves.”

Now things get interesting from a Buddhist perspective because this verifies a bit some of the altruistic thinking we have, that actually our most selfish happiness, the way HH the Dalai Lama defines “Enlightened Self-Interest,” comes from serving the team, from serving our village. From serving others.

But then there’s Mark Spitz, the great Olympic swimmer.  Michael Jordan. Steve Jobs.  Martin Scorcese. And on I go puzzling over the Individual’s role in the Team and how this interconnects with our very process of ideation.  What path to take?

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One Response to “Self-Directed Work and Free Will (More On the Agile Enlightenment)”

  1. Teams and Trusting Like a Fool « Twingle Says:

    […] raises for me is a need to examine how neatly this thinking ties back into the sense we have of Free Will and how important this is to the ability for an Agile framework to truly function.  In other […]

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