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"That's not my job, I'm only here to do ..."

Every team I have coached started with the same attitude. Only the testers estimate on testing tasks and do the testing and only developers do coding and so on. In an attempt to be ‘efficient’ we lock ourselves into these expert titles which become straitjackets for creativity. Immense energy is wasted worrying about making mistakes in their area of expertise, and we forget about the customer experience.

The problem - The ‘expert’ paradigm

I recently read the book ‘The Art of Creative Thinking’ by Rod Judkins, he describes a story about the Dubai TV station that hired him to help them revitalise their ailing TV soap operas. A team of scriptwriters, cameramen, soundmen, set designers, costume designers and more were all experts in their craft with years of experience. It soon became clear they were not open to feedback and new methods were viewed as threats to their existing authority. This attitude stifled creative thinking which made their shows predictable and dull.

Solution part 1 - Switch jobs and shock the system

So what did Rod Judkins do? He swapped their roles; cameramen were charged with script ideas, costume designers created onscreen characters and scriptwriters tried their hand at set design. Initially, they were furious, but soon the fear of failure and weight of expectation disappeared. Without a reputation to protect they started to improvise and have fun. Completely original new scripts were formed with interesting new characters, unusual settings and innovative plot lines.

I spend much of my time setting up a team environment and culture where people feel safe to speak candidly, try new things and make mistakes. From time to time teams need to be shocked out of their comfort zones. I once made a team do trust falls with each other during a retrospective. This means changing the setting, breaking routines, and making them uncomfortable by doing something they have never experienced. When you are a beginner you bring fresh perspectives, you don’t know the ‘proper’ method or way of doing things, so you will try anything.

Back in the office, when my team members were willing to switch jobs, the developers start drafting up test scenarios, and the testers write pseudocode for developers. Eventually, the whole team starts speaking directly to customers to solicit feedback and become customer outcome focused.

Solution part 2 - Prototype and run experiments

When the Dubai TV team had finished their new script rather than jumping into the production process, Rod Judkins got them to shoot and film a rough episode on the spot with the team acting out the roles themselves. This inexpensive and quick validation not only further refined their ideas but gave them the certainty and confidence on the path they were taking. When the soap went on air it was unique and a breath of fresh air for the local audience.

When teams embrace lean and design thinking they start running experiments to validate assumptions and hypotheses and build rough prototypes to validate concepts before jumping into large scale solutions. Soon the customer learnings, insights and empathy become more important than following the status quo and being wrong or right.

Key points:

  • Shock the team out of their comfort zone so they are reminded to think different (recommend reading ‘The Art of Creative Thinking’ by Rod Judkins)

  • A team which cares less about titles will focus more on outcomes and the customer experience (recommend reading "Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time" by Jeff Sutherland)

  • When a team is experimenting and prototyping there are no failures or successes, only customer learning (recommend reading "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries)

What do you think?

Do you have a similar problem in your team(s)? What things do you do to get the team to swaps jobs? Any ideas on how to shock the team out of routine?

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