Agile Odyssey

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Own it!

CoachingPosted by Shane Billings Mon, October 05, 2015 09:29:03


In my last post, we discussed the Stockholm Syndrome in which we may identify with our captors. There is another danger that can come to a team when they are not empowered - they own nothing.

The reason is simple. Because someone else has all the power and control, that person also has all the ownership. Teams that are not empowered simply have less skin in the game.

Why? Because it's safe. The cost is too high when compared to the reward. Teams without control are more interested in protecting themselves than succeeding.

The first thing they protect is their egos. They look at failure as not their fault. After all, they didn't make those dumb decisions. And they are right. It's not their fault. But the flip side is also true. It's not their fault if they succeed. Without commitment, there is no success or failure. Without that, there is no reward; no motivation; no true growth.

The next thing they protect is their careers. When power is in another's hands, so are the consequences. Rather than do the right things, they do things to please a boss. Don't get me wrong. That's not inherently bad - if the boss is always right. But they aren't.

If a boss rewards based on their desire, then the flip side is true as well. They can punish just as assuredly.

Which brings us to our next protection - alliances. Teams become divided as alliances can form. They align with those that are rewarded and shun the punished. Decisions are made based on politics.

All this ends up stifling creativity, inhibiting productivity, and destroying morale.

So how do we identify a team caught in this loop? In scrum it's easy - the burndown. I can guarantee that a team without ownership will not reach the completion of all their tasks. One time is alright. But look for a pattern over time. How many sprints have they missed? By how much?

Teams that don't hit zero will feel defeated. They will feel pushed around. They will feel that the failure is not their fault.

At that point you have work to do. There could be many issues at play here and the solution will take time. I can tell you that the team will feel comfortable and that breaking them free will take some work.

Recently I had a retrospective with a team that had no ownership. In this case, management was trying to give it to them but they were not taking it.

We'd an activity where we put up their burndown on a whiteboard and had them label it. I let them go and with very little prompting they identified that they rarely reach a completed burndown.

We listed the reasons for this. Then we voted for the biggest. At the top of the list they said was that they were waiting on others to deliver vital tasks before they could complete their items such as reviews.

"Oh!" I said. "Which teams are you waiting on?"

The reply, "It's not another team. It's us. We are waiting on each other."

Wow! Talk about a team with problems. Actually, it's hard to call them a team at all. They wouldn't help each other out like a team should.

We talked about prioritization and helping each other out. We talked about focus. They have a long way to go.

A couple of people came up to me and privately blamed other members of the team. No ownership. They blamed their difficult work, their management, the schedule, and the tools. No ownership. Never did they blame themselves. They took now responsibility for success either. Never did they take ownership.

There is a lot of work to do for them, but they can.

They can own it!




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Stockholm Syndrome

CoachingPosted by Shane Billings Thu, September 17, 2015 19:25:07
I've heard of the Stockholm Syndrome before, and like you, I have no idea what it is like. It makes no sense to me. Why would someone sympathize with a captor? Why would they align with someone who is causing them harm and keeping them captive? Of course, if it makes no sense to us, it has to be because we have never experienced it before. If we had, it would make complete sense.

What sets us apart? Well, first, we've never been captured and held against our will. That solves that. But wait! This would be a short post if that was where the discussion stopped. What if I told you that each of us can have a sort of Stockholm Syndrome at work?

Every day at work, we are held captive to some degree or another. Each of us is limited by the system, the bureaucracy, the environment, the rules, the politics, the monotony. It holds us back and prevents us from experiencing the true freedom that we enjoy. Happiness comes from autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and autonomy is the easiest to lose.

Let's first look at the captor. The captor is a an organization or person who needs control to feel comfortable. The company had a failure that cost them money so they made a rule about increased testing. The manager was yelled at by his superior, so she must manage everything you do so as not get in trouble. The society is having a moral breakdown so we have to add legislation that makes something that should be dictated by common sense illegal.

Now for the captive. In most cases, they may not even know they are captive. "This is just the way things are," they say. It's hard to see the alternative when we can't even imagine what it would be like. They've forgotten what freedom was like. It is easier to just keep going as if there were no alternative. Before long, there is no drive or ambition. It's gone, and so is the light that was in them. This type of captive is dead inside. In Scrum, they are zombies.

But Zombies can get even worse. They can become zombies with Stockholm Syndrome. Not only have they become dead inside without creativity or improvement, they begin to sympathize with their captors. The rules, micromanagement, and laws make sense to them. They employ them. They add to them. They make it worse.

There is usually a reward that exacerbates the behavior. First, there is the reward of feeling in control. Next, others who exert control, like the control shown by others. Raises come. Promotions come. And captivity flourishes. After all, they can control everything around them. Aren't they the smartest?

Contrast that with the captive who try to break free. They are always on the edge of what is acceptable. They push boundaries. Even if the group eventually goes the way they were leading, they are still outside the norm. Groundbreakers rarely are rewarded for bringing about change. Rewards seem to be more difficult to come by. Every day can seem like a battle to escape. It can be lonely and difficult sometimes.

But here is the difference - they are free! Free to innovate; free to experiment; free to teach; free to enjoy themselves. Freedom is a joy in and of itself. I'm here to tell you it's worth it. I'm here to tell you that there is no reason to give up your freedom to those who would take it from you at work.

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