maandag 28 november 2016

Scrum, burn-out and the Tai Chi-spective

(translated TestNet column)
According to research done by the Central Bureau of Statistics in the Netherlands and TNO, the percentage of IT-personnel that succumbs to burn-out is 17.2%. That is 3.2% higher than the national average. According to the investigation done, the causes are to be found in -amongst others- a higher work pressure and a higher emotional involvement for work.
During a workshop about absenteeism that I attended not so long ago the 'burn-out' was also discussed. One of the observations made in one of the discussions was that it seemed that especially in the younger population burn-out seemed to be increasing. We philosophized further on what could be the cause of this 'trend'. Was it the high work pressure? Was it the higher emotional involvement? We didn't thought this was the biggest issue. We made a link with the increase of working in an Agile way.
The Agile way of working, we were focussing on Scrum, is a way of working where the team is expected to have a high degree of (team)responsibility. The team as a whole is responsible for the results, and as a result one feels more involved. That is what makes working in a Scrum-team challenging and gives a high degree of autonomy. That autonomy is an important factor for motivation of employees, as various researches confirm. Thus far, there isn't any problem as it seems and one can safely conclude that working in a Scrum-team is both motivating and stimulating. Most employees will probably confirm that this is indeed the case, I'm convinced of this myself too.
But all that stimulation and performing can also have its downsides. Particularly, but not limited to, a young population. In the 'traditional project world' a 'youngster' was gradually introduced to the IT world by a test manager or test coordinator or mentor. Now these youngster are added to a Scrum-team where immediately the (team) responsibility for results count. Also 'oldies' experience this 'burden' in some cases, especially when they have worked in a micromanaged environments previously. Responsibility isn't a given fact, responsibility is something you have to dare to take, but sometimes you have to learn to take it.
Off course, one isn't responsible as an individual but as a team. But let's be honest, many teams perceive the new addition as a decrease of their velocity and this has to be brought up to speed as soon as possible. The expectancy is thus again relayed to the 'newbie' who, in all his or her enthusiasm and will to please excepts the challenge, not wanting to let the team down. The organisation asked for a sheep with five legs, excuse me- centipede- and the youngster is eager to comply. That can work out fine, but it can also backfire with absenteeism as a result. One has put his whole soul into his work, but loses his sanity in the process. When Vincent van Gogh stated this, he wasn't that crazy after all.
But I didn't get the 'aha-erlebnis' for this article by the 'burn-out-discussion' during that session about absenteeism, but during a course on Scaled Agile Framework. At a certain time there were a lot of references made on LEAN, KANBAN, Kaizens, GEMBA and what not more. I made a link with 'oriental' , and although Scrum hasn't got oriental roots, I noticed that a lot of Agile stuff has a link with the orient. I remembered the 'burn-out' discussion and the ((non)existing) relation with Scrum and made a connection.
A known concept in the orient is 'Yin and Yang'. These are Chinese concepts that refer to the opposing principles of forces in all aspects of life that permeate the universe. There in the Orient (yes, I'm generalizing now) people are more occupied with achieving the right balance and 'in the West' we tend to address this as 'hocus pocus'. There hardly arent any numbers on burn-out in the Orient, but if you search for researches done on the topic, burn-out is mostly seen in Western countries.
My argumentation: when developing in an approach with an oriental basis in a western country the chance of developing burn-out is bigger than in a country of oriental origin because apparently something is done differently.
What makes that difference? What doesn't one do, that is done in the Orient? I think it's because the awareness of the previously mentioned Yin and Yang and consciously being aware of these. When you walk through the average town in Asia and you pass a park or a square, you'll notice groups of people moving harmoniously. People charge themselves when they are tired, people take their rest when they are tired. People practice Tai Chi! which refers to a philosophy meaning one extreme (ultimate) and the other extreme (best) and refers thus to the philosophy of Yin and Yang.
So. My conclusion is that there is no other way than to add an extra ceremony in the Scrum-process to prevent imbalance and burn-out with employees; The Tai chi-spective (combination of Tai Chi and retrospective). I love to observe the teams and investigate what the effect will be!

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