Behavior follows system follows mindset


How can you get different results? Should you change people’s behavior? Should you create different working systems? Or should you address their mindset? I think it’s the latter.

Jurgen Appelo spawned an interesting thread on Facebook by saying:

You cannot change an organization’s culture. What you can change is your behavior and your influence.

Several people joined in and voiced their opinion. I both agree and disagree with Jurgen. The following lines will try to describe how.

I believe behavior is a result of the social system people are working in. So, if you’re a tester and you’re being measured on the amount of bugs you report (a systemic feature), you will tend to open more bug reports to meet your targets. And you’ll do that even if the agile coach or the management writer advises against it. Or if you’re a project manager who is handed down a fixed price, fixed scope contract, all the arguments of the #NoEstimates crowd will likely fall on deaf ears.

I believe the system is a result of your mindset. What do you believe about people? Are they lazy and always trying to cheat? What do you believe about social systems? Should we focus on efficiency, utilization and optimize for each function (development, marketing, product management etc.). Then you will design hierarchical, silo-ed organizations, controlled via budgets and projects.

Based on the two assertions above, I don’t think it’s enough to change your own behavior to achieve meaningful results in the organization. Changing your behavior does not affect the collective mindset. What you can do however — on this I agree with Jurgen — is influence other people, try to get them to change their mindset. In other words, effectively engage in double loop learning.

As a coach, I must spend at least a third of my time trying to change mindsets. “Why should there be a development and a QA team?” “Can performance be managed via yearly performance reviews?” “How is the team leader role helping us achieve our goals?” “Should we have one developer per module?”

I find that I can’t start influencing people’s behavior until we start debating questions like the ones above. Only when we agree to learn more about each other’s deeply rooted beliefs can we start designing new systems. And these new systems, in turn, usually generate different behavior.

Behavior follows system follows mindset.


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One thought on “Behavior follows system follows mindset

  1. Five Blogs – 18 April 2014 | 5blogs April 18, 2014 at 4:43 am Reply

    […] Behavior follows system follows mindset Written by: Flavius Stef […]

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