Acquiring an Agile Mindset – Part 2 of The 12 Dysfunctions

In the previous part of this two part article I identified the 12 dysfunctions of thinking and provided some description of the first 5 dysfunctions.  Here is a reminder of the 12 dysfunctions and here is a link to the first part of this article.

  1. All or nothing thinking
  2. Magnification or minimisation
  3. Personalisation
  4. Emotional reasoning
  5. Mind-reading
  6. Labelling
  7. Discounting the positive
  8. Shoulds and musts
  9. Mental filter
  10. Catastrophising
  11. Over-generalisation
  12. Fortune-telling

So continuing from where we left of in the last article …


This is where someone will assign a label to themselves based on some behaviour they have previously carried out.  For instance if I ended up breaking the latest build of our code I might call myself an idiot for being so stupid.  I would be labelling myself in full as being an idiot just because I broke the build whereas I am not seeing the actual behaviour that led to the mistake in the first place.  So in this instance it is better for me to stick with the evidence “I broke the build” which focuses on my behaviour rather than “I’m an idiot”.  Ensuring that we label the behaviour rather than ourselves allows us to focus on fixing the behaviour and improving; but if I continually tell myself I’m an idiot and if I believe this, how will I ever learn or improve

Discounting the positive

This is a dysfunction that many people can relate to especially when we have been given a compliment. Often when receiving praise someone may immediately think “they are just saying that to be nice”.  Now I believe that it is important to have humility, but sometimes this can go too far and rather than be a virtue if becomes a dysfunction when we continually focus on the negatives.  Humility is still having the ability to accept the positive and not discount it, so a simple thank you to the person delivering the compliment and taking time to reflect on the positives does bring about some feel-good feelings.  Continually discounting the positive has a very wearing and draining effect on our psyches and may result in an attitude of why bother so it is wise to have a balanced view of seeing both the positive and the negative aspects of ourselves and our outputs.

Shoulds and musts

I often joke with my coachees that they are too much into S&M and I tend to get a shocked look.  I quickly explain that if our conversations contain lots of Shoulds and Musts these are a sign to me of a judgemental and rigid mindset.  When using these words we need to be aware that we are placing very rigid rules on ourselves or other people to behave or think in a certain way.  Breaking these rules often results in condemnation of self or others, which leads to much bad feeling.  S&Ms are the complete antithesis of the Agile way of thinking which at its core should embrace flexibility. (I’m sure that the more astute of you reading this spotted my deliberate placing of the should in the last sentence.  🙂 )

Mental filter

This is when we might have a tendency to focus exclusively on one negative aspect of a situation and as a result judge the whole situation in accordance with that aspect.  For instance if one Timebox didn’t deliver everything that it should have done, this doesn’t make the whole increment or project a failure.  What needs to happen is for people to stand back and take a wider perspective so that learnings can be taken from the mistakes made that caused the Timebox to not deliver according to expectations.  Applying a generalising filter does little to aid the learning process and in fact will damage morale and confidence in teams.


Is when we always assume the worst in a situation with only a little evidence to support one possible outcome out of many probable ones.  This is what we refer to “making mountains out of molehills”.  This is what we might call an overly negative mindset that can see only failure looming in the future.  Whilst it is healthy to see potential pitfalls in what we are about to embark on, it is when this mindset continually locks into the negative doom-and-gloom thinking where it becomes a problem.


This is where we might make broad sweeping conclusions about a situation with little regard to how this situation may be different to others in the past.  It is the persons ability to filter for sameness and their inability to spot difference.  When we over-generalise we are in effect deleting large chunks of information that allow us to come to simple conclusions, thus simplifying our decision making processes.


This where we believe that we have the ability to predict the future with a high degree of certainty.  Like the pattern of over-generalising, this doesn’t take into account any nuances or differences that might open us up to the possibilities of other outcomes.  Fortune-Telling happens a lot in organisations especially around change initiatives where people can, with maybe some past experience or evidence, accurately predict that this change effort, like the rest will fail.  Of course they will be using their logic to support their assertions, but what most people miss is the fact that they will act in accordance with their prediction and with their actions and attitudes will set the wheels in motion for the demise of project.  They can then bask in the glow of “I told you so”.

So what about you and your organisation …

So how many of these patterns of thinking do you spot in your organisation?  More importantly how many do you spot in yourself?  If you would like to share any of your experiences then please feel free to fill out the reply box below.  I would love to hear from you.

If you would like more insight and support into changing your thinking …

If you would like to learn more about how you can take control of your thinking as a way of improving your performance or that of your team then take a look at the inner coach process.  It may be the last time you will ever need to use a coach! Click here to find out more.

3 thoughts on “Acquiring an Agile Mindset – Part 2 of The 12 Dysfunctions

  1. Pingback: Acquiring an Agile Mindset – The 12 Dysfunctional Patterns of Thinking » The Agile Leader

  2. @NickClare1

    I have often seen people using “Labelling” as a defence mechanism and way to avoid change.

    In terms of agile leadership, I think it is “Over-generalisation” that is the single biggest obstacle I have encountered most.


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