Agile Mindset – Nature or Nurture?

In this session we establish that the Agile Mindset of self-organisation is a natural set of attitudes, in-born in people, rather than a learnt one. We also establish that hierarchical approaches like the waterfall model are ones imposed on practitioners’ minds by existing practices and environments.

Understanding that the self-organising way is more natural, we look at various ways to unlearn the learnt hierarchical mindset and get back to the natural self-organising mindset


Outline/Structure of the Talk

  1. Exercise (5 minutes)

People stand/sit in rows and columns. Each person looks normally only at the person to the left of him/her. His/her responses and actions are based only on what the person on the left is doing. (People in the leftmost column responds to the person in front of him/her). [You can also occasionally look to your right or behind you] Two simple rules are given. Repeat whatever the person on the left is doing. Always maintain a distance of two feet from that person. Let us see what develops.

Discuss what the team observes. This exercise will prove that collaborative, synchronised, activities can evolve without a central directing authority. The team self-organises.

Show a half minute video on birds flocking

  1. Discussion 1 (5 minutes) – Self-organisation in nature
  • What is self-organisation?
  • Initially disordered systems reaching a pattern of order through local interactions;
  • positive and negative feedback;
  • self-assembly at molecular level;
  • embryology;
  • flocking
  • lions / wild dogs etc. hunting
  • buffaloes deciding which direction to go after resting
  • Other things in nature?
  • Hunter-gatherer societies were self-organised;
  • Hierarchical (family head, chief, king etc.) structures came later following individual’s quest for control / power
  • Current human societies , even with hierarchical structure, can regress to natural self-organisation – see mob behaviour

Conclusion: Self-organisation is natural; hierarchical directed systems are imposed by individual will

But, everything reaches a goal: Catch prey; escape predator; produce a foetus; defend society etc.

  1. Discussion 2 (5 minutes) – How hierarchical approaches developed
  • Discussion
    • Need to exercise power through control
    • Need for control
    • Worry that loss of control will lead to chaos (Need for order and security)
    • Hierarchies are seen as a sign of success of individuals
    • Traditional system development approaches like waterfall methodology are hierarchical approaches
      • Sequential with control at each step
      • Developers follow strict instructions
      • Budget and time control
      • Early non-changeable decision on deliverable
  1. Discussion 3 (5 minutes) – Agile – a self-organised approach
  • individuals and interactionsover processes and tools – observing and responding to fluctuations – patterns emerge
  • customer collaborationover contract negotiation – PO a deeply nested member of team
  • responding to changeover following a plan – observing and responding to team members actions
  • working softwareover comprehensive documentation – no major plan or directive needed; a pattern emerges

Agile Techniques for self-organisation

  • Stand-up meetings to feedback and respond to “local” fluctuations
  • Demos – correcting individual behaviour
  • Iterations – “flock” actions
  • Retrospectives – checking proper direction towards goal


  • C-D-E conditions for self-organising Agile teams
  • Container – the team boundary (our initial exercise – the room)
  • Differences – diversity in team
  • Exchanges – influencing each other
  1. Discussion 4 (10 minutes) – Unlearning nurtured behaviour and reverting to nature
  • Need to change normal tendencies
    • Let go of the need for control
    • Let go of need to do everything in a planned manner
    • Collaborative and participative approach
    • Constant communication and feedback
    • Trust rather than CYA trails [A quick eye-contact game]
    • Be willing to take risks
  • Need to change beliefs
    • Belief in the supremacy of a hierarchical organisation
    • Unconscious patriarchal beliefs
  • Need to change presumptions
    • Quality, rather than schedule is critical
    • Focus on customer
  • Need to change relative importance of things
    • Ego-less work
    • Encourage diversity
    • Don’t take yourself too seriously
    • Sometimes intuition works better
  1. Concluding discussions; questions and answers (10 minutes)
  2. Spill-over time (5 minutes)


Learning Outcome

  1. Self-organisation is a natural mindset of people
  2. Hierarchical approaches are imposed mindsets
  3. Agile approaches with their emphasis on self-organisation are natural for people and therefore organisations need not hesitate to implement Agile methodologies
  4. Since self-organisation is a natural inclination, people following agile methodologies are more productive.
  5. Ways to unlearn old hierarchical habits and learn the self-organised approach

Target Audience

1. Agile sceptics 2. Managers and teams of organisations that are contemplating an Agile Transformation 3. People needing positive reinforcement of their Agile focus 4. People seeking to improve their way of working

schedule Submitted 3 years ago

Public Feedback

comment Suggest improvements to the Speaker
  • Paramu(Parameswaran) Kurumathur
    By Paramu(Parameswaran) Kurumathur  ~  3 years ago
    reply Reply

    Within the limited time available, I was looking at touching of some of these items below for the unlearning session:


    We will be looking at a framework for unlearning. This framework will include

    1. An example: Looking at the social media now as an example of self-organised entity. How all of us have moved from traditional knowledge sharing approaches to the current approach.
    2. Understanding what “unlearning” is:
      1. It is developing a mindset where you look at ways to do things through approached different from what we have used so far (alternative approaches)
      2. Creating environments where such alternative approaches to habitual patterns are encouraged (for example, in a work environment encouraging employees to develop and implement alternatives ways to established ways)
      3. Consciously changing patterns and assumptions
    3. How the current (non-Agile hierarchical) mindset develops
      1. Home environment
      2. School curriculum, universities
      3. religious and belief systems
      4. work environment
      5. standard, established procedures and processes
    4. How to look at things from a different angle (how to unlearn), for example
      1. Can school learning be based on “topics” rather than “subjects”? – “topics” are organised to give knowledge of different “subjects” needed to learn the topic. (see
      2. Self-organisation approaches in work environments like Agile approaches
    5. Techniques to unlearn and re-learn
      1. Acceptance of the fact that we are now stuck in our traditional ways (In this process we can identify what we do, what are the mistakes, what are the alternative approaches, look at how the environment works, seek inputs from others)
      2. Let go (Here we should consciously look at force-letting-go of our set traditional mindset and moving through alternative paths and reinforcing this behaviour)
      3. Aligning the new approaches to lifestyle (Training, Conscious reinforcement)


    As far as concluding the session was concerned, my idea was to have an open discussion at the end to reinforce the idea of self-organisation and the Agile Mindset as a natural way for the human mind.


    Please let me know if you have any other questions or need any more clarifications.


    If there is sufficient response/interest from the audience, I can look at conducting a longer session to look at some of these aspects in detail.

  • Tushar Somaiya
    By Tushar Somaiya  ~  3 years ago
    reply Reply

    Thanks for submitting your proposal. From the writeup it seems you have well thought through it and have clarity of how and what you would run. Exercises are interesting as well. Congratulations for it!

    Only one question / request: Would you be sharing techniques, ways, models, frameworks, theory which will help unlearn (point 5)? Or would it be just discussions? How do you plan to facilitate and conclude those discussions? Would love to see you spend more time on it and sharing specifics.

    • Paramu(Parameswaran) Kurumathur
      By Paramu(Parameswaran) Kurumathur  ~  3 years ago
      reply Reply

      I am travelling right now on holiday and will be back at work on the 23rd of November. Would it be ok if I replied to this after that?


      Sent from my iPhone

      On 16-Nov-2016, at 9:24 PM, Agile India 2017 <> wrote:

      Dear Paramu(Parameswaran) Kurumathur,

      Your proposal Agile Mindset – Nature or Nurture? has received a new comment from tushar-somaiya-1

      Thanks for submitting your proposal. From the writeup it seems you have well thought through it and have clarity of how and what you would run. Exercises are interesting as well. Congratulations for it!

      Only one question / request: Would you be sharing techniques, ways, models, frameworks, theory which will help unlearn (point 5)? Or would it be just discussions? How do you plan to facilitate and conclude those discussions? Would love to see you spend more time on it and sharing specifics.

      Visit to respond to the suggestion OR simply reply to this email (Please make sure, you delete the previous comment's content from the email before replying.)

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