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 4 years ago

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