Agile Odyssey

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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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