Are you robbing your team of the chance to self-organize by being “helpful”?
Even with the best intentions, you may be.
Take my wife Erin for example… She’s fantastic. We met in San Francisco while she was finishing her PhD in molecular biology (read: she’s smarter than me), and she’s an amazing mom to our two-year-old.
“Hey Erin… I can’t remember… What temperature should I wash this shirt in? I don’t want to mess it up.”
Having answered this question before, Erin rolls her eyes a bit, and says “Just give it to me… I’ll take care of it for you.”
With one simple question I no longer have to do my laundry.
Welcome to the wonderful world of learned helplessness!!
Am I an adult? Yes. (Allegedly)
Am I able to do my own laundry? Yes. (Well, once I made a load of whites pink due to a red sock. But YES!)
Do I have to do laundry? NO! I’ve mastered the “one simple question” trick! Ask it, and my laundry gets done for me. Not only do I NOT have to do my laundry, I don’t have to take responsibility for accidentally turning white loads pink. It’s a win-win (for me-and-me!).
At work, this learned helplessness often shows up as a “demotivated” person or team. I’d suggest that most of the time that person isn’t demotivated, they just know if they shrug their shoulders and wait, someone will jump in to fill the void.
If you’re like me, you want your team to be successful and happy so sometimes you jump in to “do their laundry” instead of letting them self-organize to get it done themselves. Maybe you're asking “who’d like to go next” during the daily scrum, or saying “I’ll go talk with the other team about us needing their help next week.”
Inquiring minds want to know: how do you help your team break this pattern of learned helplessness? Can teams really be expected to do their own laundry?
I suggest an experiment: After your next daily scrum, read this article to your team. Explain that you’d like to stop jumping in when you’re not actually needed, and ask them to help you be a better scrum master or coach by saying the following phrase when they feel like you're “helping”:
“Please don't do my laundry.”
I also recommend you ask them if you may utter the following phrase if it seems like they are abdicating their responsibility:
“I don't want to do your laundry.”
If these phrases seem too silly to you or your team, pick your own. Or better yet, keep them as-is and just blame them on me.
Whatever phrase you use, help each other stay accountable for creating an environment in which self-organization can occur.
(By the way, I just had my wife proofread this post, and she informed me she doesn't want to wash my shirts for the certified scrum master course I'm teaching tomorrow. Thanks everyone. Thanks.)
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