Who do You Trust? Beware of Your Brain (agileTD 2011)

As already last year, Lind Rising’s talk was really amazing and just awesome! I already know that writing a blog post about it can only be a bad copy, but I will give it a try.

Linda started her talk by showing a picture of two doors from The Museum of Tolerance, explaining that normally everybody wants to enter the green door, not beeing aware of the fact that everybody of us is prejudiced the one or other way.

Next she described an experiment that has been executed with two controlled balanced group, asking if we really know if agile is better then other methodologies; has anyone ever done empirical, scientific researches done on this?
The study she told about, was the so called Robbers_Cave_Experiment

In 1954, Muzafer Sherif and Carolyn Sherif studied the origin of prejudice in social groups in a classic study called the Robbers Cave Experiment. They conducted their research in a [..] summer camp which was completely surrounded by Robbers Cave State Park[..].

[..] The study team screened a group of 22 twelve-year-old boys with similar backgrounds. They were picked up by two buses carrying 11 boys each. Neither group knew of the other’s existence. The boys were assigned to two living areas far enough apart that each group remained ignorant of the other’s presence for the first few days. [..] Asked to choose names for their groups, one chose „The Rattlers“, the other „The Eagles.“ Within two or three days, the two groups spontaneously developed internal social hierarchies.

The experiment was broken into three phases.

  • In-group formation, as described above.
  • A Friction Phase, which included first contact between groups, sports competitions, etc.
  • An Integration Phase (reducing friction).

None of the boys were previously acquainted before the experiment, but hostility between the groups was observed within days of first contact. Phase Two activities proceeded as planned, but soon proved overly successful. Hostility between the groups escalated to the point where the study team concluded the friction-producing activities could not continue safely. Phase Two was terminated and Phase Three commenced.

To lessen friction and promote unity between the Rattlers and Eagles, Sherif devised and introduced tasks that required cooperation between the two groups. These tasks are referred to in the study as superordinate goals. A superordinate goal is a desire, challenge, predicament or peril that both parties in a conflict need to get resolved, and that neither party can resolve alone. Challenges set up by the Sherifs included a water shortage problem, a „broken down“ camp truck that needed enough „man“ power to be pulled back to camp[..]. These [..] caused hostile behavior to subside. The groups bonded to the point that, by the end of the experiment, the boys unanimously insisted they all ride back home on the same bus.

The Robbers Cave experiment is [..] showing how easily opposing in-groups and group hostilities can form. At the same time, it is one of the best examples of conflict resolution brought about by finding super-ordinate needs that transcend intergroup conflict.

Linda pointed out, how quickly we all are categorizing each other. We’re thinking in terms like „us“, „we“, „them“ and „others“ all the time. The same applies to the relationship between e.g. developers and testers, as well as business-analysts and developers, we’re stereotyping all day long.
As explained play Linda, our ancestors (which have been hunters) had to do this very quickly: Is this animal an enemy? Is this plant food, or poison? Is this long thinn thing a stick, or a snake?

Next Linda told about the so called „blue-eyed/brown-eyed“-experiment, done by Jane Elliott in 1968, which I won’t describe here (find details in wikipedia). The resumee by Linda was, that this kind of group thinking can happen very, very quickly, this is a matter of hours, not necessarely a matter of days or weeks.
What Linda told here, was that you can fulfill your own stereotype, if you think of yourself as a certain stereotype, you will also act accordingly to that. We’re labeling people 24/7, and doing so, we’re creating self-fulfilling prophecies!
Linda also gave examples of experiments, where people had to do math tests. In general, male & female had comparable results, but as soon as they had to fill a checkbox male/female, the men had better results, allthough the participants couldn’t remember about filling out these checkboxes.

Another example for such a kind of experiment was again about a boy camp, where muslim and christian boys participated. The experiment was aborted, when two boys attacked another one with a knife, stolen from the camp’s kitchen. The groups have been muslim/christian-mixed, two christian guys had attacked another christian guy.

Linda emphasized that this simple stereotyping/ labelling doesn’t fit people’s complexity! So the first rule for good management should be, that you want to catch your people doing something right. Also the agile prime directive is helping you to do so.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

Applying this, we’re creating our own, positive, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Linda has given this talk a couple of times before, so please find more infos following these ressources:

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