Does your agile team have a “learning disability”?

It has been argued that the best determinate of a businesses success is based on it's ability to adapt and learn. Whilst building a "learning organisation" sounds desirable, it is distinctly abstract. We're going to look at 3 concrete "learning disabilities" that prevent teams from operating optimally.

The term learning disability is taken from Senge’s The Fifth DisciplineIn the book, Senge discusses how to transform organisations into what he calls “Learning organisations”. Organisations that are quick to pick up new skills and responsive to change. To become one we must recognise what Senge calls “learning disabilities”.
Learning Disabilities are behavioural traits that teams exhibit. These traits cloud our ability to learn and grow as teams. Out of the seven total three, in particular, I know will resonate for developers.

1. I am my position

In Linchpin, Seth Godin argues that “Linchpin employees” focus on doing “the work”, not “their job”. This means not being too tied and religious about doing only work that we’re “supposed to do”. For a developer that means doing analytics work, deployments or even recruitment.
“I am my position” presents unique problems for scrum teams, too. In Scrum, each member of the team is a “team member”. All team members are not given specialist roles. By doing so, each team member involves in many aspects of getting the work done. By having no strict roles, scrum teams ensure they never have a missing person who creates a “break in the chain”. This way production always keeps going.

2. The enemy is out there.

There is always someone else to blame. This particular learning disability rears its head in retrospectives. “Product didn’t give us the best requirements.” “Analytics held us up.” “Operations made a mistake”.
Funny how our problems are never because of us … Either we’re unlucky or blinded by a learning disability. Quite likely the latter.
If we’re working as a scrum team, too then we’re meant to be in charge of the full delivery process. That means from requirements gathering to delivery. Doing this isn’t easy, it means a big investment in training for all team members. It also requires taking an active approach to spreading skills within a team.

3. The myth of the management team

The management team, the magical beings that will step in and solve our problems. Leadership and initiative come from all areas of the business. Not only the top. We cannot rely on the “higher ups” to create all the best ideas. Instead, we must learn how to “upward manage”. Influence up the change to help the management team make better decisions. There is no us and them.
Disclaimer: The term “learning disability” is the precise term used by Senge. It is not intended to be used in any offensive way.

Have you seen these learning disabilities in your team or your organisation?

Lou Bichard