Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scrum teams and our Mammalian nature

My experience with people doing Scrum is that we tend to take the "man is rational and isolated" hypothesis to easily.  Often it is not a thoughtful choice, just the implicit assumption of the way we are thinking or the way we speak.

Isolated and individualistic are key words. If you believed in them, you would build cube farms for people to work in. For example.

Is there another hypothesis? Turns our there might be several, but one is that humans are fundamentally like all 'pack' mammals.  We work and have worked, over thousands of years, in small teams, and these teams support the members inside the team.  We have a limbic brain or limbic system that supports the huge emotional and 'social processing' needs of pack living.

Here is an article on the limbic system.
(As you will start to see, the spiritual, physical and thought-memory processing aspects of the brain are quite complex, largely sub-conscious, and quite fascinating. And there is much for us still to learn, IMO.)

How does Scrum inter-operate with this? 

Well, first Scrum seems implicitly to recognize the pack or mammalian nature of people, and organizes individuals into teams.  (Our mammalian natures may be one of the reasons for this, but certainly not the only reason.)

Scrum implicitly seems to understand that the team starts to be a source of well-being and of motivation for the individual. While the team demands something of the individual, it also supports him (eg. "can I help you with that?").   The team provides this 'pack' sense of belonging.  That they say we all need. (And I think I believe 'them' on this.)

More than a sense of belonging, it gives us a sense of purpose.  We want the team (pack) to succeed.  And we want to contribute to the team's success.   To the degree that each person identifies with the team, this is a whole set of subconscious associations that each of us tends to make with the team.

Did the designers of Scrum do all of this on purpose?  Well, I have worked with Jeff Sutherland a lot, and I have never heard him put things this way. But he has suggested that there is more going on than can be explained.

And now to you....

Assuming that we as humans are largely pre-rational mammals with a need for a 'pack', in what specific ways would you use this information to make your Scrum team more successful?



AlexF said...

Regarding your "pack" comment, I would institute a lightweight tool-assisted peer code review process where developers could collaborate and mentor one another regardless of location. Static analysis tools can be helpful as well, but they are only objective, not subjective, and to truly deliver high quality code, I believe you need both, not to mention automated testing and CI, but that's another story.

Joe Little said...

Hi Alex,

I agree with your ideas.


James Neno said...

This was thought provoking because as I think about the challenges I see on teams, most of them can be tied in one way or another to a lack of 'connected-ness', and most of the successes are correlated with the synergy of teamwork.

I wonder how many challenges will simply evaporate by encouraging more collaboration and communication.