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November 10, 2008


Bob Lauer

Here's an interesting fact about the Herzog film: The director and Kinski got into extreme disputes while filming, so the on-screen conflicts somehow got reflected in the production environment as well!


"There’s a vogue now for self-organizing teams in software development. That works, to a degree, but as often as not, there’s a certain listlessness to many of them, a sense within them that everyone is always waiting for someone else to step up."

I'm glad you mentioned this because I've seen it a lot and been frustrated by it since I don't know what to do about it.

I would *really* be interested in you saying more about this. Self-organizing teams still have managers, and it seems like attempts to "step up" step on their toes. I could be wrong about this and this could be the core of my struggling with the issue, I just haven't seen it work in practice like you suggest it might.


Inspiring post!

Does a self-organizing team imply no leader? I like to think about the self-organizing part as something that is not coming from the outside; the members taking on their roles on their own initiative instead of being simply told what to do. I worked in some teams that were organized like in the pre-agile era, formally, while they actually followed the self-organizing patterns. Also I experienced teams that supposedly were self-organized, and agile, at least on paper, but were heavily influenced (not always in a good way!) by a single or two individuals.

It is not a simple formula what makes a team successful, and it definitely has a leader variable in it. What you wrote here resonates with my own thoughts: "Ultimately, I think leadership is an individual action, and it can be an act of play that facilitates good work."

Today some of us view what a good leadership is differently than we did a few years ago, and we recognize more and more what it is that leads to a good team dynamics. I think it has a lot to do with joy of working together, of a non-prestige climate, of a sense of belonging. To achieve this, the appropriate climate must be achieved. And that is what a good leader will do to start with, set up a solid stage for the group and maintain it in a good condition during their performance.

With time, as the group matures, the roles may shift and, depending on their individual personalities, knowledge, experiences and chemistry with other members of the group, the new roles will emerge. From what I saw, in some really well functioning teams, the achieved final state of working equilibrium was without a single leader role; it had several different ones. But, the interface to the most of the outside world, which often wants a single point of contact, was still the person who was the appointed leader from the start.

Steve Freeman

The Arkestra was a fascinating experiment and I'm sorry I only saw them a couple of times (although I knew 2 people that went to a legendary concert in Liverpool in the '60's). It was definitely a cult and one of the services it provided was shelter for strung-out musicians to recover in -- you didn't have to be any good, just prepared to buy the story.

There are more band leaders we could learn from. Ellington made the best of the individuality of his players even though they played together every night for years -- and some couldn't stand each other. Stan Kenton let his sections pick their own colleagues and they were always great. Benny Goodman, on the other hand, was a monster who led great bands and broke through racial barriers.

Sebastian Kübeck

"The director and Kinski got into extreme disputes while filming".

That was normal among them. An indio big chief once offered Herzog to kill Kinski for free in order stop the disputes!

I think a good example of an agile team is shown in the film "Wag the Dog". The requirements are always changing and they still manage to deliver on time!

William Pietri

Hi, Michael! Forgive the weird formatting; I couldn't figure out how to do links.

I'm intrigued by your comment about self-organizing teams. They work fine for me. Instead of one person always being a strong leader and the rest always being passive, what I generally see is various people being strong leaders at different times, and a culture that encourages all members to take the lead at least on occasion.

Do you normally see the listlessness in teams in large organizations with command-and-control histories? I could see that there's a lot of learned helplessness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness) in situations like that.

I'd also wonder about attitudes towards risk and innovation. Some organizations have cultures that encourage and reward them, but many tacitly discourage them, even when they say they don't. If the individual's best move is to stay quiet, conformant, and obedient, then a self-organizing team is likely to look like a lesbian sheep mixer. (http://www.boingboing.net/2001/12/04/i-encountered-this-w.html)

I definitely agree that people should step up, but I'd love to hear more about why the people you are seeing don't do that.


"If anyone around you acts like Aguirre, run."

If anyone around you acts like the real life Kinski did, run as well...

And if you see his daughter (Nastassja), run, but the other way

Erich von Hauske

I haven't seen Aguirre: Wrath of God, but from what you say it sounds like the difference between being a group with an Authority with the power to impose his vision (Aguirre) and being a society sharing a culture (values and beliefs, customs/events and traditions, identity and a common language) with a Thought Leader (Sun RA) influencing a direction for everyone's participation.

I certainly believe that a common culture is more powerful (and scales better) than just being named an authority. Yes, some Thought Leaders get killed from time to time, so you won't be free of the risk being one or another.

And if we look at history we'll see that the most powerful examples come from having both: Power over a society and the values and beliefs of a culture validating that power; pharaohs, popes and kings either divine or with the divine right to have the power. Both feedback in a circle, until abuse makes everything colapse.

The modern belief: SUCCESS. "Come to me and do as I say and you'll be successful".

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Why not try it and do it now.

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