.@adaptivecoach whether or not we are “as smart as we think” / cc .@psyblog

Lord of the Flies "team," from the film directed by Peter Brook, 1963

Lord of the Flies "team," from the film directed by Peter Brook, 1963

Something that had come to mind a bit back, in a fit of very typical Project Manager-ish thinking, was the risk of forming Agile teams.  My live observation in training sessions was the following:

  • I either took over and started leading the team
  • If I suppressed my natural bossy tendencies, someone else took over and lead the team
  • If no one did this, the team might not accomplish much
  • Someone attempting to take over the team is rejected by the team. The team refuses to hear or listen to that person’s input for solving whatever problem was set before the entire group of teams, effectively rejecting that individual and uniting around that rejection.

After this experience, I looked up “Agile Risks” on Google and found this article by someone named Daan on a site called “Stuq: ideas for a better world.”  The article basically finds three risks: GroupThink; Decision Hijacking; and Abilene Paradox Syndrome.  These seem to me to all be valid risks, but I’ve been considering something else.  What kinds of risks might exist between teams within an enterprise?

Recently @AdaptiveCoach posted a link to an article advertising the book You Are Not as Smart as You Think that talks about the experiment that resembles William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies.  (Cannot find any references to show if the book was inspired by the experiment). Yes, rather similar story really took place at a summer camp in the early 50s, post World War II.  [The original study is here: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation:  The Robbers Cave Experiment by Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood, and Sherif (1954/1961)]

Digging around trying to find the current thinking in the Social Psych community about the findings of “Robbers Cave,” I found this article on @PsyBlog, written by Jeremy Dean.  He makes the point that in the Robbers Cave experiment, people are ignoring one of the contextual elements: the experimenters themselves.  And the fact that there were three, not one, experiments with slightly different results.  One of the results sets included the boys attacking the experimenters themselves! Other critics have pointed out that the subjects of the experiments were unethically experimented upon (without their knowledge) and that the fact they were all male (and from the same socio-ethnic background) must have affected the results.

For me I think it is more interesting to really look at the probability of having a flexible (“agile”) mindset in that circumstance, as described by Linda Rising in her recent Agile 2011 keynote.  I would be interested in knowing if the boys experimented upon had a “fixed” or “flexible” approach to thinking, not just about others, but about themselves.  It seems self-evident that they had a “fixed” mindset because of the name-calling incidents the researchers recorded.  As a result, I’d almost be tempted to conclude that in fact the context that the boys came from and found themselves encountering caused the intergroup conflict itself.

This also has possible dark implications for an Agile roll-out within a company, potentially.  Is management put into the role of the “experimenter” as in the case of Robbers Cave?

In thinking about managing intergroup conflict within an enterprise Agile roll-out and considering the other risks of Agile within the team, this seems to me to get back to the necessity that the “flexible” mindset of the Agile values and principles are continually taught and referenced. Otherwise, we might just find ourselves practicing ceremonies and creating artifacts for the Lord of the Flies. 😉


5 Responses to “.@adaptivecoach whether or not we are “as smart as we think” / cc .@psyblog”

  1. Vickie Gray (@adaptivecoach) Says:

    Great blog. I was concerned about the intervention of the experimenters in this experiment too. And I completely agree that managers play the same role. What we’ve found with the self-organizing teams we work with is that someone, usually the boss, always thinks that intervention is necessary to keep the team from failing. In fact the opposite is true. If the team is given proven tools for their own use instead of intervention from outside the team, they will always solve their own problems. And the one of the tools is a rational commitment to using all the resources at their disposal, including other teams. The best thing managers can do is insist teams work out their own issues and deliver great results, and then go work on the deliverables their own management team has committed to!

    Vickie Gray

    • magwep Says:

      Great comment. In fact, just yesterday a product owner from one of our teams came to me with, as we say in the ad biz, her hair on fire. The client wanted to add something to the backlog (and wanted it *now*). The product owner was thinking only one team member could provide the request and that particular team member was out. I told her to take it to the team and ask the team what they would do. The result? The team solved the problem. Happy product owner, happy team, happy client.

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