Category Archives: Being Agile

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 …

Labelling

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.

Catastrophising

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.

Over-generalisation

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.

Fortune-telling

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.

Acquiring an Agile Mindset – The 12 Dysfunctional Patterns of Thinking

I have been asked by a number of you to write a little more on the subject of Agile mindset and thinking, so here is the first in a series of articles that will target thinking and Agile mindset.  In this article I will firstly identify what I refer to as 12 dysfunctional patterns of thinking.  This is a two part article where I will cover the first 5 in this part and the remaining 7 in the next part.

So what are the 12 dysfunctional patterns of thinking?

My definition of an Agile mindset is one where learning and continuous improvement of ourselves is at the core of everything that we do.  However we are often thwarted in our efforts to improve by our limitations in our thinking processes. The area of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) identifies 12 different ways in which people’s thinking can often be distorted.  In times of great stress people may adopt one or more of these ways of thinking and this can cause additional problems to the ones they are already experiencing.  As a coach I encourage leaders and managers to first start to become aware of their own patterns of limiting thinking as these patterns will then become easier to spot in other people.  A word of caution though: the purpose in spotting these thinking patterns is not so that you can set out to change or fix them in other people, this is an area best left to professionals who with the appropriate level of tact and skill can help people overcome these limitations.

So let’s start by giving you the list of the 12 dysfunctional patterns of thinking:

  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

All or nothing thinking

This was one of my favourite ways of distorting my own thinking.  When under pressure I would often see things in very extreme ways, everything is either black or white with no shades of grey in between.  The problem with this sort of thinking is that people may often fail to find solutions to their problems if they tend to focus on the extremes.  Solving complex problems requires for us to have flexible thinking and the ability to not only identify with opposite ends of the spectrum but with the infinite possibilities that often lie between the extremes.

Magnification or minimisation

This type of thinking is where a person will amplify the “bad” or negative aspects of a situation while attenuating the positive.  Of course some people might do the complete opposite.  This way of thinking has the effect of distorting reality and may result in more stress for the thinker as they perceive some event or person as being more negative or positive than in reality.

Personalisation

Some people have a tendency to make external events or situations all about them.  They may blame themselves or take on too much responsibility for the actions of other people or for circumstances that were outside of their control.  An example of this would be where you may logically decide that the reason for the failure of the programme was because you failed to deliver your project within budget.  Now it may be true that you may have had some part to play in that, but a blanket statement of  “its all my fault” is rarely the truth.

Emotional reasoning

Feelings are very powerful as anyone who has watched a rugby match can understand.  The strength of our emotions can often muddy the water of our thinking processes. Coming to conclusions or reaching decisions as a result of our feelings may often lead to poor decision making especially in times of duress.  To this end it is important to examine the evidence available in an unemotive way in order to come to an accurate assessment of the situation.  It is worth mentioning that emotional reasoning is not the same as using our intuitive abilities, but that is a subject for another day.

Mind-reading

Just as it says on the tin, this dysfunction is about believing we can read the minds of other people.  We may tell ourselves things like “my colleagues think I’m an idiot”.  Because we are thinking something we can have the tendency to believe that the other person is thinking the same thing.  We need to check our assumptions and gather evidence before we start to act on our misplaced thinking, so in this example I can ask my colleagues if they do think I’m are an idiot and they may reassure me by telling me no, but do I believe them?  If I don’t then I would contend that I have gone back to mind reading again.

In the next article I will provide a description of the other 7 dysfunctions of thinking.  Here is a link to that article.

Why you can’t stop doing Agile to be Agile …

I’ve heard many people now use various forms of the expression about Being Agile over Doing Agile and I thought I would add my tuppence worth into the mix.  To my mind it is quite impossible to “Be Agile” without also “Doing Agile” and I want to explore in greater detail than I have seen written or discussed the idea of being Agile.

But first let me make a statement in support of what I think people are trying to put across when they talk about “Doing Agile”.  There are many organisations who have bought into the myth that if they do stand-up  meetings, operate in week sprints, have a review and retrospective – hey presto you are now Agile.  Wrong!  They may be following a set of prescribed Agile behaviours, read a few books on Agile and then they think that all the benefits of Agile will be theirs.  Again this is a mistaken belief and it is something that we Agile consultants refer to as Cargo cult Agile.  Rather than me explaining what this is, there is a great article which describes the concept of cargo cult. In short just following Agile behaviours, i.e. “Doing Agile” doesn’t bring all the benefits of Agility.

So what is “Being Agile”?

Firstly what do we mean by just being?  To my mind our beingness incorporates our behaviours, thinking and emotions.  Think about it for a moment, what happens when we do something, what informs us to take action?  Well simply put, we will come from a place of conscious thinking about our action or we would impulsively (or subconsciously) act out of habit.  Now I might have simplified the process somewhat, but our behaviours are preceded by our thinking, its just a question of how much conscious thought we have put into that act of doing.

Now many of you might be familiar with the Unconscious-Competence model for learning.  (I have included a diagram below with some commentary to remind you.)

What the diagram doesn’t show is that we work through the stages of learning by repeating the behaviours over and over again.  We may have Agile mentors who work through these stages with us, holding our hand as we make mistakes, but ultimately supporting us through to the stage of being consciously competent.  But ultimately it is about doing, making mistakes and then learning from and making meaning that will help us on the path to mastery.

So where does emotion come in?

Very often the actions that we will have committed to take with the best of intentions are often hijacked by our emotions.  Allow me to give you an example.  I was coaching a project manager who said all the right things in the coaching session.  As part of the coaching we discussed the various “them and us” dynamics that existed between the business and IT group. As part of the coaching I ask him to respectfully confront the business and question why they were continuing to pile more and more work onto the backlog while still expecting the development teams to be able to achieve their goals.  On the next session he informed me that he wasn’t able to approach the subject of doing too much. When we examined what happened in the conversation what happened was that he became gripped with fear at would happen when he said no to his customer.  In that moment he became more concerned for his own well being over that of the development team.  Now in no way do I blame or judge him because I too know what it is like, probably like many of you readers, to be in the clutches of fear.  We think from a very different place and in that moment we are being scared.

So this demonstrates how someone can be thinking Agile but not being Agile – or are they?  Well lets change the scenario for a moment.  Imagine now that the PM and said no to the business – “sorry guys, but we can put this work over here but we are not going to disturb the development team who have already made their commitments for this sprint.”  Would his fear have disappeared, probably not; but instead he would have been living the value of courage so instead very quickly he could also be courageous.  Courage is one of the values of Scrum and in this sense he would have been living or committing to his values, so in my definition he would, in that moment at least, be Agile.

Here is a link to my posts on the Agile Mindset which you may like to read.