Social Complexity and Agility

Turning up the heat – the levels

(n.b. This section is still a work in progress. I’ve been finding it easier to explain the different levels by giving examples, i.e. symptoms, than by giving a long description).

Level 5: Burning
(results in team burnout and death marching)
At the burning level, the heat is too high. The stress level results in chaos, aggression, and a regression to primitive behaviour patterns. This is a dangerous level, since the high pressure increases the friction between the team members, increasing the heat even more.

Characteristic behaviour patterns for this level
•    Countless overtime hours leading to no result
•    Stress
•    Disagreements, fights
•    Sickness
•    Lack of communication
•    Inefficiency
•    Hectic
•    Blame
•    Restlessness
•    Self-preservation
•    Paralysis
•    Panic
•    Fear of attack

Level 4: Cooking

(ideal temperature for continuous improvement)
This is the optimal temperature for mixing up and forming teams. At this level, the heat is high enough to force disruption of behaviour patterns, but not so high that team members regress into pre-conventional mode.

Characteristic behaviour patterns for this level
•    Differences are resolved constructively
•    Continuous improvement
•    Enthusiasm
•    Work is fun
•    High productivity
•    Constructive discussions
•    Consensus
•    Joy
•    “We” – feeling
•    Self-reflection
•    Open discussions
•    Progress
•    Results
•    Creativity
•    Fun
•    High performance
•    Organised chaos
•    Good communication

Level 3: Cooling (Stagnation)
(discipline is lost and bad behaviour begins to fester)
If not enough heat is applied, or when things cool down after a while (entropy), a team enters the cooling or stagnating stage. In the kitchen, this is where what was once a fine-tasting soup has become a substrate for fungus and bacteria growth. Most health departments even have laws requiring cooked foods to be cooled down within a certain short period of time, as to pass through this stage as quickly as possible.

Characteristic behaviour patterns for this level
•    Slacking off
•    Work becomes routine
•    Loss of discipline
•    Monotony
•    Indifference
•    9 to 5
•    Too much discussion
•    Minimal communication

Level 2: Congealing

(team gets too comfortable to achieve and bad habits become the norm)
Increasing pressure to adhere to “norms“ – “that’s the way we do things here”

Characteristic behaviour patterns for this level
•    Change becomes difficult
•    Many meetings
•    Multiple implementation of work
•    Problems become difficult to solve, because everything’s a mass/mess
•    Boredom
•    Much talk, no action
•    Consensus becomes difficult
•    Resignation
•    Splitting of the teams into cliques
•    Everyone works for themselves
•    Minimalism
•    Defensive stance
•    Hiding behind procedures and rules

Level 1: Solid/frozen
(control takes over and change is no longer possible)
Inflexible, rigid burocracy – “that’s the way things are done!”

Characteristic behaviour patterns for this level
•    No interest or excitement
•    No initiative
•    No exchange or communication
•    No motivation
•    Standing still
•    CYA
•    Feeling of Powerlessness
•    Retreating to and hiding behind rules
•    Avoiding work
•    Lack of motivation

A topological observation of the heat model

An interesting observation, and one which may help explain the entropy analogy, is the fact that the characteristic behaviour patterns seen when the system cools down to the solidifying level and similar to the ones seen at the burning level. The system seems to wrap around topologically (spiral?), similar to the bottom section of the Cynefin butterfly model.

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  1. [...] were also a couple of ideas how teams change and evolve over time. You should cook a team, but not burn them, as well as the classic,  Storming Forming Norming and [...]

  2. [...] Enter the Scrum Master’s role: when energy is applied to this System (and here System=Team+Tools+History of the SW previously developed), the System will move into several states of Self-Organization. Take into consideration that: a) Self-Organization is a disruptive state (in the sense that it disrupts Self-Assembly, i.e. the pre-determined behaviour, before any energy was applied) and b) it’s a non-equilibrium state that will decay back to Self-Assembly. And this is exactly why the Scrum Master’s job of keeping a Team on a high productity state is a work that’s never done. If you remove the energy, the Team will decay into Self-Assembly, into the “old ways” and will become a Group. And exactly how much energy shall be then applied? Joseph Pelrine explains it in a very clear way on his blog: part 1 here and part 2 here. [...]

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