Steve Freeman on People and Teams

Posted by Conrad Benham on November 09, 2008

On recent travels through Asia, Steve Freeman stopped by and shared his thoughts and experiences with self organising teams and people. In his presentation Steve introduced a number of concepts, drawing on the Agile Manifesto and also had the group engage in some practical exercises related to teamwork.

Steve Freeman

Steve introduced a number of people in his discussion, quoting from Deming, Cockburn and Snowden. When making decisions that affect a team it is important to be inclusive. Deming was quoted as saying that the people closest to the work should make the decision. In doing so you will have a team that is more likely to adopt the new direction. Cockburn adds that a project needs just enough process and detail, too much of these and the project will suffer. According to Snowden then, it’s important to pay attention to the feedback loop to understand whether the corrective measures taken by a team are working and where they can be further refined. Steve spoke of the concept of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing first introduced in a short article in 1965 by Bruce Tuckman entitled Developmental sequence in small groups’ (PDF).

Steve introduced Ralph Stacey’s Agreement & Certainty Matrix. This is a model used to help determine the actions that should be taken in a complex environment using two criteria: degree of certainty against level of agreement. This matrix has a number of applications. It can be used to determine the balance between leadership and management, helping make decisions by aiding in their understanding and to communicate and justify a certain direction. Related is the Cynefin framework developed by Snowden and colleagues while working at IBM’s Institute of Knowledge Management. Like Stacey’s model, this framework is also used to help people make decisions based on complex data. In this context, Steve asked attendees to talk in pairs about a recent project they’ve worked on where there were difficulties, paying particular attention to the politics and religion that was at play on that project. He then asked each pair to identify where they fit within the two models mentioned.

For those interested, a summary of Steve’s presentation has been compiled by Steven Mak on InfoQ China. This summary is in simplified Chinese.

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