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Let’s Get Cooking

October 16, 2009

In a previous post I mentioned the ABIDE principle along with a cooking metaphor to explain a team’s flow. This was one of the topics during Joseph Pelrine’s Coaching Self-Organizing Teams workshop at Agile 2009. As Joseph pointed out, a team will be at its highest level of self-organization and productivity while they are in a so-called cooking state. The key is for the team to stay out of the other four states to ensure that they don’t get into trouble.

Joseph presented us with the Ideal Gas Law.

pV = nRT

For those who do not remember their high-school chemistry class, here’s the breakdown of that formula.

  • p is the absolute pressure of the gas
  • V is the volume of the gas
  • n is the amount of substance of the gas
  • R is the gas constant
  • T is the absolute temperature

So if we were to apply this theory to how we run a team (to some extent) we should be able to find the ideal environment for a team to function in. This is where Joseph’s cooking analogy was introduced. Essentially there are five states a team can be in. The team can function in any one of these states, but each state has a different level of effectiveness.

Solidifying

  • No energy to do anything.
  • Usually highly bureaucratic.
  • Very exhausting to keep a team at this level; lots of energy required.
  • Team becomes neurotic.
  • Very brittle, and it is not uncommon for things break.

Gelling

  • Little room for movement; People still feel stuck requiring a lot of effort to get things done.
  • Requires a lot of energy to get out of this state.

Cooling (I like the word Simmering better)

  • Heat is not high enough for cooking to happen.
  • Things start to break down.
  • Discipline starts to break down.
  • This can be the most dangerous state.
  • There is still a lot of flexibility for things to happen.
  • Change can go in different directions.

Cooking

  • The energy level is high enough that people are interacting regularly.
  • People get away from their ingrained behaviour patterns.
  • Stress levels are low.
  • This is the ideal level.

Burning

  • When people are at this heat level, they experience too much stress.
  • Fight or flight attitudes emerge.
  • It is not uncommon for people to burn out.
  • Things become charred, and you may turn into a solid once again.

I’m sure that many people have experienced at least a couple of these states throughout their career. Many teams just settle into their current state and remain there. It is clearly in the best interest of the team to get to the cooking state, but what can they do to get there? You need flow, which defines the optimum state of productivity.

As the above graph illustrates, when you are below the Flow Zone you experience boredom because your skills typically outweigh the challenges that you are presented with. And when you find yourself above the Flow Zone, anxiety sets in because the challenges are beyond your skillset. Over time we push ourselves to avoid boredom. As we get better at what we do, we naturally start looking for more challenging problems. Keep in mind that there are adrenaline junkies who like to be way outside of their comfort zone. The key is to find that right balance.

So how do you find that balance to get cooking while riding the Flow Zone? ABIDE gives you five things you can change to help you do just that. It is to be noted that these all can work in conjunction with each other. For example, changing the environment can be an attractor.

Attractors

  • These are the people, positions, situation, ideas, that others tend to be attracted or driven to.

Boundaries

  • Who’s in, and who’s out?
  • The boundaries of your team.

Identities

  • The roles and responsibilities that people on the team have.

Diversity

  • The makeup of your team including skillset, culture, gender, etc.
  • Keep in mind that a homogeneous system will not self-organize properly, and dominance will emerge.
  • Bring in someone new and it will surely trigger change.

Environment

  • Change the circumstances of the team’s environment, and they will have to change how they work ex) tear down cubicle walls and introduce an open work environment

If you know that your team is capable of cooking maybe some of these ideas of Joseph Pelrine’s can help. I believe he has presented some very useful strategies for making good teams great.  We must realize that it is up to us however, to play with the ingredients and temperature dials, and to renovate the kitchen in order to find that perfect recipe for success. I think with a little creativity we can all be chefs.

By Hemant J. Naidu

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