5 Robot-Friendly Tips You Should Never Use With Human Teams

Image courtesy: Tanya Hall, publicdomainpictures.net

Image courtesy: Tanya Hall, publicdomainpictures.net

Leading a team of robots can be both challenging and frustrating. You need special skills, attitude and instincts. Here are 5 tips to lead them effectively:

1. Watch out for emotions

Robots are notoriously unemotional. They are strictly logical beings. So, carefully avoid all emotions.  If any robot displays signs of emotions, immediately quelch it: it is unnatural. This may be a sign of malfunction. You should strive to keep your own emotions bottled up as well. Be strictly logical.

Alas, this approach will not work for leading human teams.   Neuroscience is increasingly discovering that human beings are not only emotional but emotions actually help in making the right decisions.   While uncontrolled emotions can have a downside,  emotions guide us in selecting the right information to make crucial decisions. Take emotions away, and humans display a pathetic lack of even basic decision making skills.

2. Avoid Humor

Mechanical, as they are, robots don’t appreciate humor. Don’t waste your energy by dwelling on the lighter side of life. Ditch those Dilbert cartoons and smilies.

If your team team is made up of human beings, on the other hand, recognize that humor is essential.  A timely senses of humor may make a difficult or embarrassing situation easy. Research is unambiguous — these days, work stress is high, engagement levels are plummeting. Humor comes to the rescue. Appropriate humor reduces stress, improves morale, increases creativity.

3. Give detailed instructions

When dealing with robots, merely defining what to do is not enough. Tell them ‘how’ to do the work as well.  Map out every step, every criteria, every detail.   Leave little room for thinking.

You guessed it! This technique does not work for human teams. People perform at their best when they are given a high level goal and are left to themselves to figure out how to achieve it. If you really want their greatest creativity, motivation and commitment, go a step further: tell them also ‘why’ the work is essential. Purpose unleashes hidden reservoirs of energy.

4. Keep them apart

Except where coordination tasks and touch points are clearly engineered, robots work well in isolation. So, don’t bother to encourage them to communicate with one another. In fact, if you find two robot getting together in an un-engineered situation, be suspicious. A sicence-fiction like situation may be on the anvil.

For humans, as scientists  are discovering, social connection ranks right up there with food and shelter. Collaboration dramatically increases ideas.  Having even one person whom you can trust and talk to at work can increase engagement, reduce stress boost well being. So, for your human team, the ‘keeping them apart’ does not work. Find ways to get people to work together, play together, create together.

5. Show them who’s the boss

Making robots independent may be dangerous. You need to be in charge, be in control. Otherwise, (who knows?) they may be planing to take over the planet! So, delegate responsibility but not authority. Keep the remote control with you…always.

Once again, research in unambiguous : human teams flourish when given autonomy. So, jettison this rule when dealing with humans. The more autonomy people have, they happier they are at work. Happy people are more productive, creative and engaged.

Robots vs Humans

What’s the obvious lesson? You need different approaches for leading robots and humans. Much of the agony at  work is due to leaders who apply robot-strategy to human teams. Perfect approach: wrong species! Fortunately, approaches to leading human teams can be learned.  Are you learning?

2 Little-Known Obstacles to Team Development

Prabhaker Panditi - Two Little-Known Obstacles to Team Development and How to Overcome Them

Team Development  challenge

For organization to grow, teams and leaders should constantly learn. However, it is not as easy as it first appears. Studies show that most of us routinely overestimate our knowledge and skills. We ignore negative feedback, overestimate our positive traits, and notice only what we want to notice. In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conducted experiments that demonstrated this cognitive bias. Dunning Kruger Effect, as it is called, implies a tendency for individuals to rate their skills much higher than what they are in reality.

Organizations face a grim reality: they want to develop people, but those who need development most are the ones who think they are ‘already up there’!

Stages of development

The first thing to recognize is that individuals move through various stages while developing a skill or competence:

Unconscious incompetence

Individuals in this stage do not recognize that they lack the competence or skills. This stage is analogous to Donald Rumsfeld’sunknown unknowns.”

In  this stage, people don’t know what they don’t know!

Conscious incompetence

Real development starts at this stage. Individuals recognize their lack of competence. This mere awareness is sometimes powerful. Given the right environment and opportunities, this can propel people into the next stage of development.

Conscious competence

Individuals in this stage have learned this skills. However, they use these consciously, noting each step carefully. This requires a person’s full attention to avoid mistakes. To know what this stage feels like, think about the time you first learned to drive.

Unconscious competence

This is the stage of mastery. Repeated use or practice of the skill makes it almost second nature. Individuals use the skill with ease. Think about any expert in sports, business or entertainment for a demonstration of this phase.
Wasted training money Organizations often make the mistake of diving headlong into leadership and team development programs. They underestimate the combined force of Dunning Kruger Effect and Unconscious Incompetence. People attend the programs but promptly resume their earlier habits. Money spent: yes. Results achieved: no.

The Solution

There’s a better way. The first goal of organizations should be to make people ‘aware’ of the deficiencies or developmental needs to move people beyond unconscious incompetence. Otherwise, the cognitive bias blocks any new information. Once this happens, any further efforts to impart knowledge only gets superficial commitment. That is why direct feedback in the initial stages often does not work.

Awareness should be spread subtly: showing examples of good leadership, inviting great leaders as guest speakers, using informal opportunities to discuss about a particular skill. In fact, if it looks serendipitous, the impact will be greater!

Once people become ‘aware’ and move beyond the initial stage of learning cycle, direct discussions and feedback about the developmental needs also will be more effective.

Some caveats

  • Once the ‘awareness of incompetence’ is achieved, teams and leaders will be ready to move to the next stage. Even at this stage, making the training or coaching too broad leads to failure. Complex skills need to be broken down into smaller, meaningful units. This fosters faster learning, greater sense of progress and higher retention and use.
  • Desired competencies should be seen as developmental needs and not as tools for punitive measures. Otherwise, anxiety overtakes the learning spirit, and will lead to negative consequences, often exactly opposite to those intended.
  • It is also important to develop trust through genuine commitment and sincere appreciation of ‘efforts’, not just progress. People grow at different pace. Comparisons are often detrimental.
  • Whether it is training, coaching or mentoring, one should be sensitive to feedback from the participants. Learning does not progress linearly. There will be stages where individuals may get stuck or make progress slowly. It is important to be patient and persistent.
  • Direct feedback about the developmental needs can always be combined with the above approaches. As long as leaders are aware of the potent

The great thing about organizational learning is that it is contagious. Once some teams start to develop, others will follow. Organizational learning becomes a habit that keeps its knowledge ever fresh, likea red, red rose.”

Here’s Why Agile Team Members’ Brains Grow Constantly

Here’s Why  Agile Team Members’ Brains Grow Constantly

Prabhaker Panditi - Agile and Neuroplasticity If you are working on an Agile team, chances are your brain’s physical structure changes every day.  It is  growing more neural connections and making strong neural wiring. In effect your brain is evolving in ways that you did not realize.



“O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circle orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable” cries Juliet to her love in William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’   What Juliet and even Neuroscientists until recently did not know was that  the very brain that swears changes its structure and function with each experience, each thought and each act including, unfortunately for Juliet,  swearing!  Your brain evolves continuously by forming new neural connection throughout life – a process known as Neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is good news. You can rewire your brain with every thought.  Any activity that needs mental focus like sustained thinking and problem solving improves your brain.  The more you use reasoning skills, the better your brain gets at it.  Even your IQ score may go up!

Frequency of thinking

Not being a Neuroscientist myself, I am using the word ‘thinking’ in the limited sense of planning, focused problem solving and exploration of alternatives.  All project teams have to think, regardless of the process used.  This is obvious.  The method adopted, though, alters the frequency and type of thinking needed at each stage of the project. In waterfall, a lot of thinking goes on in the beginning. Team then move on to execution, which itself will need a different type of thinking. Agile teams, however, explore more often.  The cycle of problem solving and execution repeats every two to four weeks, depending on the iteration length.   

The following table shows some Agile activities, their frequency and the thinking that goes on in each activity.

Stand-ups Daily Achievements since the previous day, plan for the day and impediments.
Pair programming Daily The observer pays total attention to the code being written, constantly thinks about alternatives, possible bugs, larger picture and design improvement.
Sprint planning 2-4 weeks Each team member thinks about the problem and the solution, considers others’ views and constantly adjusts his own thoughts.
Sprint retrospective 2-4 weeks What was the commitment and how well did the team do? What went well and what did not? Does the team need to change anything or introduce new practices?

Agile and Neuroplasticity

The activities shown in the table above or topics discussed in each one are not exhaustive!  There are several other situations and ceremonies that make Agile teams think more often.  The sheer frequency with which teams shift between thinking and doing is unique to Agile. And the results on their brains will be different.   

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”90%” height=”” background_color=”#f6fcc7″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” rounded_corners=”false” ]The sheer frequency with which teams shift between thinking and doing is unique to Agile. And the results on their brains will be different.[/dropshadowbox]

Compare a person who exercises for an entire week continuously to someone who spreads the same exercise over several weeks. Even if the total amount of exercise is identical, the results will be dramatically different.


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The Greatest Pitfall For A Coach Or Mentor

The greatest pitfall for a Coach or Mentor

Greatest Pitfall for a Coach or Mentor - Prabhaker Panditi

.Image Courtesy – Frits Ahlefeldt, www.publicdomainpictures.net

How to get noticed

Picture this: the teacher asks a question to a group of school children. One of the students blurts out the answer immediately. “Good. Very good” acknowledges the teacher.

The student learned an important lesson.  To get recognized, you need to jump in, be the first, seize the opportunity … as quick as light. Over the next few years, this lesson would be reinforced time and again; in the playground, during cultural events, in the college canteen.


What’s wrong?

This  Me-First, I-Know-IT  attitude may be helpful in some situations or for some roles.  For a coach or mentor, however, it will be a liability.

Despite the difference between the two roles, both demand some self-restraint.   You need to give space to the Coachee or Mentee, to let her discover things.  Dishing out solutions robs them of the chance to explore, to deep dive, to reflect.

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7 Special Things You Can Gift Your Agile Project Teams This Holiday Season

Get your team’s spirit soaring and turbo charge productivity. And enrich yourself as well.

7 Special Things You Can Gift Your Agile Project Teams This Holiday Season This holiday season, gift something invaluable to your Agile project teams. Whether you are an Agile Coach, Scrum Master, Project Manager or Product Managers, your team will cherish these gems for a long, long time. They will  get the team’s spirit soaring and turbo-charge productivity. Research proves these benefits.

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Boost Employee Engagement In Your Projects With These Tips

Employee engagement in projects - Prabhaker Panditi www.LeadingAgility.com

USA Today reported that Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent will resign from his job at the Dailly Planet newspaper.  Clark is disgusted with the degeneration of media which now provides meaningless entertainment instead of real news. More than seventy years of history comes to an end. Being a Superman, only a monumental shift in business values could disengage him from work and quit.  We mortals can be affected by lesser reasons. 

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