We had just finished our sprint review and the team members presented the results of the last sprint. We had an amazing sprint, where the team not just accomplished all commitments they have given – in addition they pulled additional work packages and finalized it. Our internal customers were quite happy and expressed that in the review Meeting.
Between review and sprint planning I went for a couple of minutes to revise and reprioritize some new work packages to present to the team during sprint planning. As we have structured ourselves in a way, where most of the upcoming work is previously refined and estimated with the team, the planning meeting with me as Product Owner is more or less just used for the team to pull which work packages they will be working on during our next two weeks sprint.
Although it was few minutes away, I couldn’t help but notice that the energy in the room was amazing: My teammates were sitting upright with both hands on the meeting table. Their eyes wide open, following every step I took. There was no noise – but it was like one could feel the excitement for the newly printed work packages in my hand. An enthusing atmosphere filled the meeting room, the second I started to present the next weeks Content.
What I was seeing in the faces of the team members was the excitement of starting something new.
This switch in behavior is no coincidence; the change of energy in the room happened for a reason! Before you wonder too long: What the team was showing was a kind of an addiction! Relax, not any other kind of addiction other than Dopamine hormonal addiction. So let´s take a short trip on few hormones and how they alter the human’s behavior (as Simon Sinek mentioned in “Leaders eat last”):
Dopamine is the hormone that fuels our engine to work day to day towards our goals, craving to move forward and progress. Dopamine causes the feeling of satisfaction we get when we take on a challenging task or a big project and plan on executing it. Dopamine is highly addictive.
Endorphin is essential in our bodies for a different reason: our survival. Endorphins are to mask physical pain during stressful or hard situations, until our goal is reached. The euphoric feeling we get after presenting an important project or a hard workout is endorphins running through our blood streams and its their for us to survive.
Oxytocin is the hormone of collaboration and friendship: it’s different from Dopamine or Endorphin in the sense that it’s not instant but long lasting. Oxytocin initiates human connections and bonds; which are essential for our mental health. Its what you feel when turning to your team for their support after having a hard day or a difficult Meeting.
Serotonin is the hormone of presence, just like when you’re feeling proud presenting good results of your project.
How hormones alter during our sprint-to-sprint rhythm?
During our sprint-to-sprint rhythm, our bodies are subjected to a pattern of events, inducing a certain flow of hormones.
During Sprint review for example, while presenting our accomplishment, serotonin is there to lift us up with pride! Or during sprint planning: As humans are visually induced creatures, when seeing the upcoming work during sprint planning, dopamine fires up with determination to pick the new work package and start planning how we will progress. While facing challenges during the sprint endorphins helps us withstand stress to complete the task. And oxytocin allows us to build trust and bonds between team members to go through our day to day work in an emotionally stable place.
Why should this matter anyway?
Our thoughts drive our hormones. If I were to sit in front of you and scratch my head every day, not so long ago you will start scratching your head too. I know you are saying you definitely don’t want to, but I will tell you why you will: As humans we are wired to interact and connect, whether consciously or subconsciously we do eventually copy the movements, ideas and consequently habits of other humans surrounding us.
When teams are going through a rough patch, one team member can steer the tone into a better or a worse direction. By saying that I don’t mean that we are only allowed to express our happy shiny rainbow feelings to our teams, because life includes its ups and downs and we need to care for our own needs and feelings. However the point is to be aware that we have this influential power of changing the dynamics of our team and use it for setting a good direction.
I absolutely believe, that it is for a reason that agile methods and team composition are favorable compared to conventional methods of project management or work load organization: It´s the rhythm and pulse, the recognition and participation, the curiosity and self-determined work environment (e.g. Scrum provides to the teams and individuals). Although the “framework” may serve as a flowerbed that aims at developing high performing teams through the different tools and methods, it is just the seed that we as team members, leaders or coaches are responsible for. This seed contains not just our knowledge, our experience and practices that the team or organization has, but also our passion, intentions, feelings and motivations we live agility.
Keeping in mind that each one of us is responsible for the energy he fuels into a team in order to build trust and a healthy motivating environment, agile methods create an atmosphere that complies with the needs of human nature:
- working in a rhythm or a pulse,
- embedded in a team of people sharing the shared and transparent goals,
- frequently creating value and aiming for products that make a difference to their customer and stakeholders
- continuously learning and improving their own work environment.