Team performance and assumptions
Pure knowledge doesn't exist. I mean, there is not such a thing as an accurate and objective portrayal of the world unbiased by the beliefs, values and interests of those who provide it. This idea of pure knowledge stems from the early mechanicist view of the world in which everything can be explained with a set of objective phenomena behaving to a set of rules which can be readily observed and described.
In fact beliefs, values and interests of those who generate knowledge colour the knowledge itself. And this is true not only for the easily spottable cases like advertising or propaganda but also for knowledge that comes from a rigorous scientific experiment because it is created within a certain view of the world.
Thomas Kuhn called these views of the world paradigms and we all know that many different paradigms existed before, exist now and more will come in the future.
Different paradigms exist not only at the area of knowledge level (e.g. medicine: Western and Chinese) but also at the people and role level within a chosen paradigm (e.g. in a Western medicine hospital doctors and nurses operate within different paradigms).
The paradigm idea can be illustrated comparing two contrasting views of what knowledge is: Positivism and Constructivism.
In the Positivism paradigm knowledge exists in an objective sense, it's a complex pattern of facts and ideas and learning is seeking and absorbing this knowledge. Scientific knowledge usually reflects this paradigm because, as Jurgen Habermas defined it, it's coloured by the technical interest to control the world.
In the Constructivism paradigm knowledge is not just objective, it is coloured by our own meanings and feelings and therefore everyone's knowledge is different. This is the knowledge we need to understand human relationships that Habermas defined as practical interest.
Of course Habermas ideas reflect his own paradigm... :-)
All this lecture leads us my main point: team dynamics and performance. A team to work efficiently needs to have shared assumptions operating at an inconscious level so that its members don't have to constantly stop and determine what they believe and how they should act. The beauty of assumptions is they become a shorthand for the team which, when faced with similar situations, just acts and doesn't re-evaluate each time.
On the other side though the team may fail to see new data that contradicts its beliefs and may miss an opportunity to improve its effectiveness. In fact missing details may false an experiment even if the results make sense because they fit our frame.
Piaget suggested that when faced with a new situation we have two options:
- Assimilation - happens when we handle a new situation by applying an existing schema. We make the new situation fit with our existing paradigm
- Accommodation - takes place when we make adjustments to our routine schema to cope with something new. In these cases our existing paradigm is modified to fit in with the new situation.
There is obviously a tension between assimilation and accommodation - between using old responses in new situations and acquiring new ones (or updating old ones) to cope with change. This is a continuous process and the result is a continuous learning.
Our team is a nice example: since the beginning of the project we have gone through many cycles of assimilation and accommodation trying, inspecting and adapting many aspect of our way of working: to date we have changed the duration of the iterations, the way we pair (2 or 3 times), the story lifecycle, the way we do the planning game, how different people interact and even the way we move the stories on the cardwall (plus many more details). We are now going to change the day and the way we do the showcase before the planning.
And everytime there has been a tension between our assumptions - as a team and as individuals based on experiences in previous projects - and the feedback - both as data collected and people feelings (retrospective but not only).
Paradigms, beliefs, values, assimilation and accommodation heavily affect the relationship between traditional and Agile people but this is, maybe, a topic for another post.