• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • Why teams get out of alignment: human optimizations, human failures

    August 23, 2018 | Connectedness
  • When things don’t go as planned on a sprint or an initiative, you’ll often hear some version of these comments at the retrospective:

    “We weren’t focused.”

    “We spent all our time fighting fires.”

    “We made assumptions that turned out to be wrong.”

    “The team had trust issues.”

    “The requirements changed midstream [or the business environment, or the makeup of the team, or the leadership…].”

    “We thought the approach we used last time would work. It didn’t.”

    While the list of failure causes could go on and on, all of the items above have one thing in common: they come about for the simple reason that humans are built to fail in just those ways. And those failures are the result of specific optimizations that we acquired millennia ago and have never lost.

    Distraction/Cogitation: your think-all-the-time optimization, which constantly theorizes about the opportunities and threats in your environment, as well as memories about the past and predictions of the future.

    Reactivity/Self-Protection: your act-now-to-survive optimization, which orchestrates physiology and cognition to take immediate action (like fighting or running away) when you appear to be under threat.

    Bias/Decision-Making: your make-a-judgement-now optimization. Unconscious thought processes influence your attention and awareness without your knowing it. Always intending to be helpful, these optimization algorithms make snap judgments for you about what’s really going on without wasting time alerting your conscious awareness about the details.

    Tribal/Community: your can-I-trust-you? optimization. A subset of those survival and unconscious processes lead you to experience other people as safety or threat, skewing your experience of other humans to prioritize self-protection and protection of your group.

    Homeostasis/Stability: your I-would-prefer-not-to-change optimization. From top to bottom humans generally disapprove of changes in its environment (which are likely to pose some kind of threat). We do have a few change-loving circuits, but they are mostly the exception. Change causes stress, and stress impacts multiple layers of functioning.

    Habit/Best-Practices: your it’s-more-efficient-for-me-to-keep-doing-it-the-same-way optimization. not only does the human organism want the environment to stay the same, it would really not rather change its ways of thinking and behaving either. Once it finds a successful approach, it is not likely to drop it unless deliberate active measures are taken.

    Though these optimizations arose in primeval conditions that have changed considerably, they are all still very much a part of us, and in fact do us a lot of good day to day. But they can also create a lot of problems for us. And one of those problems is that, in the right circumstances, if enough of the negative consequences of the optimizations come into play, they pull teams out of alignment with business needs, with their leadership, and with each other.

    Teams will have a much easier time getting and staying aligned if they account for these optimizations and manage their disruptive potential as they do their work. Fortunately, that’s not as difficult to accomplish as you might think.

    How to get teams aligned: the archery lesson.