AGILE COACHING LESSONS: “Trance Formations” and the Hawthorne Effect
Push-style “transformations” look good at first, and do not last long. What is actually going on there is this: the Hawthorne Effect. It turns out that when you make a change in a workplace, like changing the brightness of lights for example, the productivity goes up temporarily and reverts back to the mean. It is not lasting. If you wait awhile and dim the lights down a little, same thing. Changes like this cause short-lived increases in productivity. When people are being observed as changes are being made, they temporarily change their behavior.
What’s being sold as “Agile transformation” today are mostly short-run productivity increases that do not actually last. Temporary improvement, based on the Hawthorne effect. New procedures, new consultants, new teams, new practices, etc. Observation. The productivity increases from the Hawthorne effect are very misleading. They do not actually last. They are 100% temporary. There is no actual “transformation.”
Starting with Lesson 4, I explained to you the dynamics of self-management. A little later on (in Lesson 14) I explained how making decisions triggers very high levels of engagement. And how engagement is where all the improvement actually comes from. All of these topics are related: decision-making, engagement, self management, and great results. One begets the other.
Engagement is the name of the game here, and you get it by inviting teams to make some decisions that affect their work. Scrum defines some decisions that only the teams are authorized to make. There’s a good reason for that.
If you are “helping” the team to make these decisions, you are discouraging self-management and self-organization. And this is where all the improvement (if any) is going to come from.
So stop doing that. You are generating disengagement and causing team members to “check out.”
You are creating “trance formations.”
If you are party to the PUSH of Agile on teams without consent, you are part of the problem. You’re pushing Agile practices, and making most all the decisions for them. Or even worse, you are literally “looking the other way” while authority figures in the organization make decisions that the teams literally need to be making to stay engaged.
So stop that. And do these things, instead:
- Encourage executives and managers to refrain from making decisions for the teams that Scrum very clearly defines as belonging to those teams.
- And then, encourage teams to make the decisions that Scrum says are theirs (and theirs alone) to make.
And after a while, everything will start to improve. In a lasting way.
Because the teams are actually engaged in the difficult work of making decisions as a team.
See also: The Hawthorne Effect (link)
Agile Coaching Lessons:
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