My current work lives here: Oddball Empire - Rock on.
You don’t need to tell people how they should interact. If they have an opportunity to self-organize, all will be fine.
No. No. You need rules that describe how people should interact. Otherwise things will be a mess. If everyone is just doing what they please, we’ll get chaos.
Is interaction in projects determined by context: an opportunity to self-organize, or by mechanism: rules for group interaction?
This for me is the hardest thing to describe or to explain in projects. It is easier to say “just use this set of rules” or “just let the people hang out and flow all naturally” then to provide the real answer: it depends.
Within projects, you have processes that are highly scripted. Like a formal audit. You also have elements that are very low on structure. Like a brainstorm session.
In reality, things will be a mix. In this post I provide an overview of how I think about this topic. It helps me to keep all elements in perspective when facilitating group interaction. This is a revised version of my post about an article by Trudy and Peter Johnson-Lenz: Rhythms, Boundaries, Containers. Elements Of Social Systems.
If you place context at one end of the scale and mechanism at the other, I consider the following elements:
- Empty Spaces (context)
- Procedures (mechanism)
You can view an “empty space” as structureless space or piece of time where something can emerge. An opportunity for anything creative to happen. There is no specific structure, just the opportunity for people to connect and self-organize.
Provide people the time, place and reason to get in each others vicinity.
Schedule “empty space” time for your team, so its easier for people to connect.
Put up a big screen in the hallway displaying your issue log. People will gather. People will talk.
“Stories” provide you with a sense of place in time and space. It provides a sense of location.
The “what” of what could happen in the empty space is determined by stories. It provides you with an answer to “what am I doing here?”
Knowing where the project fits in your story, and where you fit within the organizational story, provides you with a sense of location. A notion of “where you are right now” and where you might be heading.
Life has a heartbeat. A pulse. 24hrs in day. 7 days in a week. Recurring periods. A daily standup in your project. A daily build in your software development process.
In the words of Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz: “The function of rhythms is to provide appropriate patterns for periodic contact and participation …”
It also helps us to identify with a group. If we seem to have the same rhythms, same patterns in meeting each other, that can signal we share a group. We might show up at the same meetings. Share a room. Hang out at the coffee corner at the same time. Stuff like that.
In the meaning of Johnson-Lenz: “The functions of boundaries include defining group membership; delineating group identity; and marking group rhythms, beginnings, and endings.”
“Boundaries” help you to define if you are part of a group, or not. They help you to answer questions like this: How do yo know you are part of a group? And how do you know who are the other group members?
Boundaries have multiple sides. In-Out. Here-There. Now-Later. Me-You. Two specific boundaries we experience in projects are: You-Project and Project-Organization.
“Boundary awareness concerns our interfaces with other systems,” says Charles M. Johnston.
Your project is a temporary system within the host organization. Think about it as a hospital tent set up in a field. It allows the doctors to perform surgery isolated from what happens around them. It provides focus and shelter. Johnson-Lenz: “The function of containers is to hold the energy, life, identity, or “presence” of the group.”
The container will hold the empty spaces and the procedures.
To use a “tent” analogy: a tent is what we need to hold our culture. Or, if you like, we fill the tent with our culture like a hot air balloon.
The procedures make up the rule set the group members have to follow. They make up the rules of engagement during group interactions. Procedures can help us make interaction more efficient, as everyone is using the same set of rules. Procedures can also embed knowledge to minimize potential problems.
Procedures influence the container. A clear choice between an agile or a plan-driven project approach is a choice in culture. It sets the ground rules for “how we do things around here”.