Jenni Jepsen – Agile Leadership and Teams – Live Blog 2015

Jenni Jepsen is a partner at goAgile, a Denmark-based Agile consulting firm, where she helps people to deliver the right product faster. While she is crazy about Agile methodologies, she is most interested in delivering value – no matter what the process. You can catch up with Jenni on Twitter.


To convince stakeholders that the soft fluffy side of Agile works, Jenni set out to discover the processes in our brains which link Agile to the reward circuitry. MRI scans proved invaluable, showing which part of the brain are firing during different tasks.

IMG_20150904_091059

The Limbic system controls the fight or flight system. It’s also responsible for long term memory and habits. When the brain enters this mode, the pre frontal cortex shuts down, with the effect of a short term lobotomy.

The biggest source of stress is the felling of not being in control. This causes performance to drastically drop.

IMG_20150904_091406

Dopamine is responsible for that feeling of awesomeness. We need more dopamine in the work place. Research shows that western cultures are over stresses with too much work and not enough control. In this situation the tools and processes are often blamed. Piling more stress is not the answer.

We need to support and encourage team mates, which allows members to be pushed farther as they’re at the peak of the curve.

IMG_20150904_091823

We should design our interactions so people can perform optimally. Agile does this.

Our brains are lean mean prediction machines. With only an overview our brains can fill in the gaps.

IMG_20150904_092124

Our brains are set up to maximise reward and limit danger.

When we are in a stress state our brains see the world differently. We see more negativity in the world around us. A continual stress state causes our brains to change to be semi permanently change. Our brains have, by default, more negative connections. But we can change, allowing the pre frontal cortex to open up, allowing for more risks.

Some ways to increase dopamine are:

  • Feeling pride in our work
  • Feeling valued
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness and team connections
  • Fairness

Planning for uncertainty creates certainty.

Gut feeling are our brains recognising patterns, which happens deep in the limbic system. Its part or our hard wired survival system. It does not tell us why, thats where further analysis helps.

Focus on the relationship before the task. You’ll get through the task quicker.

If Agile is so great, why is it often hard to more to Agile ways in organisations? Change is a novelty which creates uncertainty.The first time we encounter something we are naturally weary. It takes our higher brains to analyse the situation to become accustomed. We need to know the what and why to adapt quickly. Jenni suggests that we should introduce a chunked Agile process to become familiar. She has not had an instance where this did not lead to long standing changes in an organisation.

Question and Answers

Q – How do we determine where people are on the stress curve?
A – Body language and change in behaviour are the primary indicator. Negativity and not wanting to take risks. The easiest way is to just ask. Its then important to support that person to create more trust.

Q – Are all causes of the fight or flight responses in built or conditioned?
A – It has evolved over thousands of years. All animals have it but we can override it. As a species we have created non natural situations that trigger that response. We can condition our selves however.

Q – Some people are more susceptible to stress. Should team members be similar in this respect?
A – Some people sense more threat in the world. We should have a mix. Diversity always help, the overly optimistic may come close to reality and the opposite is true too.

Q – How do we limit the stress we bring into the workplace?
A – Stress is stress, no matter the source. The team can empathise, support and reframe the situation to reduce the cortisol in the brain.

Q – How to avoid the us and them effect between ‘tribes’?
A – Cross team collaboration.