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BUILDING HIGH-PERFORMANCE TEAMS:
WHY AGILE WORKS & HOW TO MAKE
ADOPTING AGILE EASIER
Jenni Jepsen
Business of Software, 24 June 2015
@jenniindk
How to build high-performance teams:
Create an environment that allows frequent, fast
communication.
Why Agile works:
The principles and processes enable optimal thinking.
How to make adopting Agile easier:
Meet people where they are, break down the change,
and support & encourage.
Energy Engagement Exploratio
Our focus on communication and
collaboration in Agile ways of working
is the reason Agile delivers so much value.
And, the neuroscience proves it…
• Decision-making
• Emotion control
• Higher-level thought
• Mental flexibility
• Goal-oriented behavior
Prefrontal
Cortex (PFC)
THINKING REGION OF THE BRAIN
Limbic System
• Long-term memory
• Old habits
• Reward, pleasure
• Fear
• Prejudice
FEELING REGION OF THE BRAIN
STRESS PERFORMANCE CURVE
PFCPerformance
Distracted
Disorganized
Forgetful
Bored
High stress
High-performanceFocused
Organized
Responsible
Levels of catecholamine release (NE and DA)
Increase with arousal state
STRESS PERFORMANCE CURVE
11
PFCPerformance
Distracted
Disorganized
Forgetful
Bored
High stress
High-performanceFocused
Organized
Responsible
Levels of catecholamine release (NE and DA)
Increase with arousal state
Support &
encourage
Push
TOWARD & AWAY CONTINUUM
Away Toward
Threat Reward
Source: Amy Arnsten, Ph.D., professor of Neurobiology, Yale University Medical School
SCARF MODEL
Source: David Rock, 2008
STATUS
CERTAINTY
AUTONOMY
RELATEDNES
S
FAIRNESS
WHY AGILE WORKS
The methodology supports optimal thinking.
Dedicated,
self-organizing teams
Overview
Just-in-time planning
& Chunking down
Relationships +
Influence & Autonomy
Certainty & Fairness
Easier to manage
change
=
=
=
Agile?
I don’t think so…
Our brain & change
Burning platforms create a
sense of urgency, but it’s
fight, flight or freeze.
You can create a ”sense of urgency,”
in a POSITIVE way,
by involving and engaging people in the need
for and VALUE created by
the change to Agile ways of working.
What’s the vision?
WIIFM?
What’s our progress?
Change perspectives
Build relationships
GET IN TOUCH
Jenni Jepsen
@jenniindk
jenni@goagile.dk

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Jenni Jepsen High Performance Teams Neuroscience and Agile

Editor's Notes

  1. Understand how our brains work and what motivates us, we can help people build high-performing teams and harvest the real benefits of working Agile. Agile works because the methodology supports/fosters optimal human thinking.
  2. MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, we have identified the elusive group dynamics that characterize high-performing teams—those blessed with the energy, creativity, and shared commitment to far surpass other teams. These dynamics are observable, quantifiable, and measurable. And, perhaps most important, teams can be taught how to strengthen them. Patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. The study found that the best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings. The data also reveal, at a higher level, that successful teams share several defining characteristics: 1. Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet. 2. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic. 3. Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader. 4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team. 5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back. (Source: HBR, April 2012)
  3. Need physical work spaces that: Encourage short, frequent communication – to create energy Make it easy to create engagement (involve & engage) Allow exploration
  4. When we feel good, connected, accepted, happy, open, curious, we do our best thinking.
  5. A large brain network that includes: Amygdala Hippocampus Cingulate gyrus Orbital frontal cortex Insula The limbic system tracks your emotional relationships to thoughts, objects, people and events. It determines how you feel about the world – moment to moment. Drives behavior (often without knowing it). Moment-to-moment decisions involve more than just rational processes. Subtle choices need to be made based on value judgments. Making these value judgments is one of the limbic system’s main functions. Under stress, our attention and behavior are driven by the limbic system. It’s a vicious cycle: limbic system makes you then perceive more threats, which then stresses you more. And in this over-aroused (stress) state, your brain processes things differently. The PFC does not function normally. (Affecting memory, ability to understand, make decisions and inhibitions.) Your brain wants the path of least resistance. The brain will work to make the connections in the limbic system stronger under stress.
  6. What happens when the limbic system becomes aroused? Reduces the resources available for PFC functions – and your brain goes on ”auto pilot” drawing on deeply embedded fuctions or ideas close to the front of your brain, such as recent events. Your ability to think rationally and focus on what’s happening in the moment is drastically reduced. You become more likely to respond negatively to situations. You look at the downside and take fewer risks. You become more defensive. Increases the chance of making links where there aren’t any. (These mistakes happen through a rule of ”generalizing” based on previous experience.) When you experience over-arousal over a long period of time, your levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the blood becomes chronically high. You experience a permanent sense of threat, and a low threshold for additional threats. Under stress, the PFC shuts down and the limbic system (where our old habits are) takes over. It’s a survival mechanism perfected over thousands of years. Our brains perceive stress as danger. We become reflexive, active creatures who are trying to survive a dangerous situation by freezing, fighting or running away. The PFC shuts off this stress response if we feel in control. If we have some influence and autonomy over the work we are doing, the research shows our PFCs work better. We think more rationally, and make smarter decisions. Optimal PFC functioning occurs when we feel motivated (not fatigued or bored) and empowered (not stressed and out of control). This is when people are able to think clearly and strategically, get into a good flow, and work toward reaching goals. TRUST increases oxytocin. STRESS increases cortisol and adrenaline leading to allostatic load.
  7. ”Minimize danger, maximize reward” is the organizing principle of the brain. The ability to prevent fears, doubts and distractions from getting in the way of performance is essential to reaching peak performance. The limbic system scans data streaming into the brain, telling you what to pay more attention to, and in what way. Assessing danger or reward. It is constantly making TOWARD or AWAY decisions. The limbic system fires up far more intensely when it perceives a danger compared to when it senses a reward. TOWARD emotions: Curiosity Happiness Contentment AWAY emotions: Anxiety Sadness Fear The arousal from danger also comes on faster, lasts longer, and is harder to get rid of. Even the strongest TOWARD emotion, lust, is unlikely to make you run, whereas fear can do so in an instant. Everyone has a unique set of ”hot buttons” that can trigger limbic system arousal. These triggers are patterns of experience stored in your limbic system and labeled as ”dangerous.” THREAT STATE: Also, in a threat state people accidentally class information as threatening even when it is not, and they err on the side of withdrawing and not taking risks
  8. Five domains of human social experience. These 5 domains activate either the primary reward or primary threat circuitry in the brain. The model enables people to more easily remember, recognize and potentially modify the core social domains that drive behavior. Labeling and understanding these drivers draws conscious awareness to otherwise non-conscious processes,which can help in two ways: Knowing the drivers that can cause a threat response, enables people to design interactions to minimize threats. Knowing about the drivers that can activate a reward response, enables people to motivate others more effectively tapping into internal rewards. STATUS Status equals survival – it’s about relative importance, ”pecking order” and seniority. Humans hold a representation of status in relation to others when in conversations and this affects mental processes. If you feel better than another person, your reward circuitry in the brain is activated. The perception of a potential or real reduction in status can generate a strong threat response. CERTAINTY Think of the brain as a prediction machine. Massive neuronal resources are devoted to predicting what will happen each moment. This takes a lot of energy – and the more certain we are (safe, secure) in our work environments, the more we can use our prefrontal cortexes for thinking and problem-solving – and not on worrying about what will happen next. AUTONOMY A perception of reduced autonomy — for example, because of being micromanaged — can easily generate a threat response in people (fight or flight – it’s a matter of survival). When an employee experiences a lack of control, or agency, his or her perception of uncertainty is also aroused, further raising stress levels. By contrast, the perception of greater autonomy increases the feeling of certainty and reduces stress. Leaders who want to support their people’s need for autonomy must give them latitude to make choices. RELATEDNESS Involves deciding whether one is ”in” or ”out” of a social group. Friend or foe? Relatedness is a driver of many types of teams. People naturally like to form tribes where they experience a sense of belonging. FAIRNESS Unfair exchanges generate a threat response in the brain. People who perceive others as unfair, don’t feel empathy for their pain, and sometimes feel rewarded when unfair others are punished. Setting clear ground rules that involve the team and increasing communication and transparency increases the sense of fairness.
  9. Error detection mechanism: Our brains can actively resist anything that is forced upon it. The more you try to convince people of something, the more people push back – it triggers the threat response.
  10. People have a natural resistance to change. They don’t understand… why the change, what does it mean for them, and how do you want them to work differently (vision, mandate). Change overwhelms the PFC. It’s difficult and takes a lot of energy. Change requires modifying long-term habits – something the limbic system does not want to do. The brain likes the steady state. This bias against change is hard-wired into our brains (in the basal ganglia). Change is perceived as a an extreme novelty. Our brains respond to novelty by releasing epinephrine and norepinephrine. This then turns off the function of the prefrontal cortex (our thinking region) and the primitive brain takes over protecting us from threats. (This is where ”fight or flight” comes in.) Our brain’s orbital frontal cortex is our error detection area and is critical for detecting novelty. This area lights up when you notice something unusual or different in your environment. If this detection circuitry fires too often, it brings on a state of anxiety or fear. To facilitate change: you need to focus people’s attention in new ways long enough. And you must have: A safe environment, so the threat response in the brain is minimized Help others focus their attention in just the right ways to create just the right new connections in the brain And, to keep these new circuits in the brain alive, you have to get people coming back to pay attention to their new circuits over and over again.
  11. This metaphor has been misused and the original intent was to connect the need for change (even though it is scary) with the greater possibility of the benefits of uncertainty. Most problems in business today involve more ambiguous problems where a ”burning platform” doesn’t work. To solve these, we need to encourage open minds, creativity and hope. Most org changes: ANALYZE – THINK – CHANGE And part of this is usually about creating a burning platform to motivate people to change. What the research shows is that this only works if you want quick and specific actions, then negative emotions like fear can help motivate. (Think of bear in the woods…)
  12. -- Break down the change into smaller pieces, the same way we do when we plan in an Agile way. -- Take a step at a time, show results and get feedback. -- Neuroscience proves that our brains respond best if we try to make behavior changes in the same way. MORE ON POSITIVITY For longer-term bigger picture, more complex change, it requires: Creativity Flexibility Ingenuity And this happens when you are open to new ideas and trying new things. The research on positivity shows that minds are opened and there’s a willingness to create new habits. Positivity – joy of work, as an example – improves productivity and quality of work, as well. To get to this positive change, it is more SEE – FEEL – CHANGE.
  13. You all probably know the team performance models – tuchman’s Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing being the most famous; Lencione’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Well, I’m not going to talk about any of them. What the recent reseach shows makes the most difference in team performance is the ability of the team to communicate and collaborate, and discover new things outside of the team and bring them back to their colleagues…