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Posts tagged ‘Team Dynamic’

Real-life laboratory for human experiments – The case of an Agile organization

Our organization is well known in Canada, France, and other French speaking countries around the world as a leader with the Agile approaches. We are one of the few organizations in North America with over 20 full-time agile coaches (employees).  For most part, our governance model relies on self-organization, the absence of hierarchy, and transparency in our decisions. This is what is well known from customers who have worked with Pyxis and potential employees who wish to join the organization, but what is much-less known is how Pyxis is a real-life laboratory for management, organizational behaviours, and team dynamics.

Most of the people who come in contact with people at Pyxis or who have worked with us will agree that the organization is different and throughout this year, I will share some of the inner working of our organization.

Pyxis helps software development companies to become places where results, quality of life, and fun coexist sustainably by being first and foremost an example of what it proposes to its clients and by coaching them.

We help our customers transition to Agile because we know it works – not because it is written in books but because we have been living the Agile way for 10 years now.

As the first post on the inner working of our Agile organization, I will explain the root cause of this difference. More posts will follow on self-organization, agile management, governance models, and growing a profitable organization by leveraging people’s inner motivation (remember autonomy, mastery and purpose?).

The fundamental reasons why Pyxis is different

After observing the organization from the inside for over two years, I have had the opportunity to appreciate that we are fortunate (and one of very few organizations) to have a real-life laboratory for human experiments – no, not the kind usually reserved to white rats. Our structure allows us to experiments with governance models (the way people are managed) and observe first hand the organizational behaviors that arise and the impact on team dynamics. We pride ourselves as being an incubator for highly performing teams and as such, we often experiment new concepts within our organization before trying them out on our clients – which is not often the case in consulting, but I digress…

The first reason behind our uniqueness is the philosophy of the founder. François sees the world differently from most people and although he has an opinion on many topics, his real contribution is that Pyxis is not a profit-maximizing organization. Like every organization, Pyxis wishes to generate a yearly profit but that is not the reason why Pyxis was originally created. Pyxis was born with a purpose to improve how software development is made and more importantly to improve the quality of life of people within those organizations.

This is critical to understand the organization because it leaves rooms for experiments (making mistakes is a critical part of learning), for employee satisfaction (people truly enjoy working at Pyxis), and deliver great results (highly motivated employees deliver better results).

There are other reasons why the organization is different but in my opinion, this one is fundamental.

3 behavior changes to increase team performance

Image by Marc WathieuIn addition to working on a new Vision (more on this in an upcoming post) and establishing new strategies, I’m operating a small cultural transition.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Our organization’s culture is “collaboration / cultivation” (from The Reengineering Alternative: A Plan for Making Your Current Culture Work) and like other organizations with a similar culture (and despite our success), there are a few areas for performance improvement.

As such, I believe there are 3 behaviors that are preventing our organization and the various teams from reaching the “High Performance Team” level (The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization). My attempt to increase the teams’ (and the entire organization) performance level is by focusing on the following 3 behaviours:

  1. Setting clear agreements
  2. Eliminating gossips
  3. Operating with integrity

Why focus on these 3 behaviors?

Let me start with a simple example to highlight what typically happens in many (including ours) organizations. You will certainly quickly understand why this is dysfunctional and can easily lead to sub-optimal performance. I invite you to follow a typical conversation…

  • Sarah: “Mi Mark, I’ve been having issues with payments from a customer. Can you help me?”
  • Mark, in the middle of typing an email: ” Sorry, I wasn’t listening. You need help with something Sarah?”
  • Sarah: “Yes Mark, we have sent reminders to your customer but still haven’t received any payment. Since you are the account manager for this customer, I was wondering if you can help me?”
  • Mark: “Yeah. Well, of course. What do you need me to do?”
  • Sarah: “I don’t know. Maybe you can give them a call to see why they aren’t paying their latest invoice.”
  • Mark: “OK. I have a few things to take care of today. I should be able to help you”.
  • Sarah, walking away: “Alright. Thanks.”
  • [3 days later]
  • Sarah, talking to herself: “I can’t believe it. I asked Mark to help me with something important and he still didn’t get back to me. Doesn’t he understand that receiving payments is important for our company. It’s always like this with him, he says “yes” but never does anything.”
  • [Sarah enters the coffee room]
  • Mary, smiling: “Hi Sarah. How are you today?”
  • Sarah, clearly upset: “Not good. Mark is so unreliable. I asked him to help me contact a customer and he still hasn’t done anything. It’s been 3 days already.”
  • Mary, nodding: “I understand what you are saying. I’ve asked him to contact a customer to invite them to an upcoming conference and he still hasn’t done anything. It’s over 2 weeks already.”
  • Sarah, pouring milk in her coffee: “Why is it that we have to do everything around here?”
  • Mary, approving: “You know, Mark is not the only one. Do you know that I’m waiting for Don to submit new content for the web site? It’s been 10 days already and Don hasn’t done anything. I don’t know what to do!”
  • Don, entering the room to get a coffee: “Good morning ladies!”
  • Sarah, walking away with a cup of warm coffee: “Good morning Don. Have a good day!”
  • Mary, smiling to Don: “Hi Don, how was the hockey game last night?”
  • [For 15 minutes, Don and Mary continue their conversation about the hockey game]
  • Mary, walking away with a donut and a coffee: “Nice talking to you Don. Have a good day!”

I doubt that these conversations only take place within our organization but what I’ve noticed is that they are detrimental to high performance. Here’s what’s wrong with this story:

  • Lack of clearly defined agreements – who does what? by when?;
  • Absence of difficult conversations – when commitments are broken, people don’t have open discussions around the situation at hand;
  • Talking to others about someone else’s issues – people resort to involving third parties in a situation that would better be resolved between those who had an agreement;
  • Not living up to the promise – commitments are taken lightly and there are no consequences for not delivering on them.

So here’s what I’m proposing to the teams in an attempt to take the organization to the next level.

Setting clear agreements

It is critical to establish clear agreements in order to avoid disappointment and mis-trust. To obtain a commitment and make sure that people have a true agreement, it is critical to make a clear proposal that can:

  • Be accepted in full;
  • Be rejected completely;
  • Be renegotiated.

Once the agreement has taken place, each party must then honor its commitments.

Eliminating gossips

Gossip is idle talk or rumour, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. It forms one of the oldest and most common means of sharing (unproven) facts and views, but also has a reputation for the introduction of errors and other variations into the information transmitted. The term also carries implications that the news so transmitted (usually) has a personal or trivial nature, as opposed to normal conversation [...] The term is sometimes used to specifically refer to the spreading of dirt and misinformation – Wikipedia.

Instead of pretending to address a situation by involving a third party, eliminate gossip and go directly to the person with whom there is an issue and work at resolving it with them.

Operating with integrity

integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that one judges whether they behave according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold – Wikipedia.

For me, integrity is very simple as it means to “Do what I say and say what I do”.

Finally, in the possible event that someone can no longer deliver on their commitment, they must inform the other party as soon as they realize they won’t meet their commitment and re-open the agreement.

This may seem trivial and very simple to implement but I doubt any organization has actually been able to implement these behaviors on a large scale. I trust that we will become a highly performing organization once we are successful at doing this.

It’s a bad idea to hire super heros

 

Don't hire super heros

Sure, super heros are powerful. They have strengths and abilities that regular humans don’t possess. They can always be counted on to save the day and they wear cool suits! But…

Have you considered the damage a super hero can do to your team, to your department, and sometime to your organization?

Over the years, I have had the opportunity (?) to work with super heros. Every time, the initial reaction is always the same – wow, this individual is amazing! Eventually, after I analyze the accomplishments, look at the situation and the impact on others around the super hero I am less than impressed. Here’s why:

  • Having a super hero hides the real underlying problems because the super hero will always save the day – no matter what caused the situation to start with. Unless you have a retrospective or a post-mortem following the resolution of the problem, you will not be able to assess if the problem is likely to happen again in the future;
  • A super hero causes resentment within a team since he is typically the one rewarded for the efforts. In addition, a super hero loves the spotlight and will seldom share it with other people who helped resolve the crisis;
  • A super hero thrives on solving problems and some have been known to spark an explosive situation so they can jump in later on to resolve it.

Everything is not lost if you have a super hero on your team. Next time he saves the day, simply thank him for his action and then reward the individual who suggests and implements a way to prevent the situation moving forward.

 

 

The Pirates’ Game (part II) – Solution

The solution to the challenge published a few days ago can be found here. Wikipedia provides more details on the allocation.

The intersting learning from this game is that to come up with the ideal solution, the proposing pirate needs to think in terms of the other
pirates (want would they need to accept this deal) instead of focusing on his perspective and as such, the optimal allocation is:

A: 98 coins
B: 0 coins
C: 1 coin
D: 0 coins
E: 1 coin[1]
  • A: 98 coins
  • B: 0 coins
  • C: 1 coin
  • D: 0 coins
  • E: 1 coin

The Prisoner’s Dilemma: Applying Game Theory to Agile Contracting

Behavior of the Homo Economicus

Behavior of the Homo Economicus

At Isabelle’s request, I agreed to attend Simon Bennett’s session on The Prisoner’s Dilemma: Applying Game Theory to Agile Contracting. Before getting into the content of the presentation, I must say that after recently reading slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, Simon’s visual presentation was outstanding. It has been a while since I attended a presentation with such quality visual material – too bad I can’t link to it.

Through a series of games, Simon demonstrated how traditional software development contracts are not appropriate for Agile projects and since I don’t have his legal (Corporate Law) or Economics (Behavioural Economics) background, I will quickly jump to the games that were played during the session.

The Prisoners Dilemma

If you are not already familiar with this game, here are the basic rules. More information about this game can be found on Wikipedia.

Requirements: Two people are required to play this game.

Scenario: The two of you have been arrested with regards to a crime. You are both kept in isolation for interrogation and have no way of communicating with each other.

How to win: In order to be released from prison, both of you need to say that your accomplice is innocent.

Rules: If one of you says the other person is guilty, the innocent person walks away while the guilty person stays in prison. If both of you say you are guilty, you both stay in prison.

Conclusion

While the optimal scenario would be that both of you say you are innocent, chances are you (and most probably your accomplice) will say the other person is guilty in an attempt to be released from prison. Unfortunately, this behavior leads to the worst case scenario which has both of you staying in prison.

This game is interesting and demonstrates why contractual agreement has the potential to results in an optimal deal but leads most of the time to the worst possible scenario.

The Pirates’ Game

If you are not already familiar with this game, here are the basic rules.

Requirements: Five people are required to play this game.

Scenario: As a group of pirates, you have just found a chess than contains 100 gold pieces.

How to win: The objective of each of the pirate is to maximize the number of coins they will receive and the decision to split the coin is democratic – each pirate gets to vote and the majority (or tie) proposition will be accepted.

Rules: Each pirate has a seniority level – pirate A is the most senior pirate while pirate E – the fifth pirate – is the most junior pirate. In order of seniority, each pirate proposes to the group how he wishes to split the coins and then asks everyone (including himself) to vote on the proposal.

When a proposal receives 50% or more of the vote, it is then accepted BUT if the proposal receives less than 50% of the votes, the proposing pirates is thrown overboard to the sharks.

Conclusion

While pirate A would wish to keep the 100 coins, there is no way for him to make this proposal without being thrown to the sharks. His challenge then becomes how to please other pirates in order to keep as many coins as possible, without risking his life.

Go ahead and try this game to see what happens. The solution to the game can be found in this post that will go online on September 8th.

The Bidding Game

I unfortunately do not have the documentation (and permission) to share the details of the bidding game but the conclusion are once again very obvious. People trying to maximize their compensation or reward always leads to less than optimal and sometimes to the worst possible outcome for both parties.

As is stated in the Agile Manifesto – “Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation” would almost always give better results than aiming to maximize individual rewards. Unfortunately, our irrational (and sometimes greedy) nature doesn’t allow the maximum outcome to be reached.

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