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Scrum and comfort zones

14. September 2015

As some of you may know, this is my first blog post, ever. Yay, this is an exciting time for all of us! For me, writing is not entertaining, but hard work. So leaving my comfort zone is a natural thing, if I need to write anything beyond technical documentation. So it got me thinking...

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Comfort zone, what is it?

The comfort zone is a psychological state in which a person feels familiar, at ease, in control and experiences low anxiety and stress. In the zone a steady level of performance is possible.

Wikipedia

How to change?

Just do everyday things differently. Even if that is not so easy on the first place, look for the perspective that is coming from the change, wether the change is small or large. And don’t be put off, if it doesn’t work out as planned.

Technically speaking, your comfort zone works a bit like a muscle. Make use of it, and it will grow. Do it only step by step if you feel comfortable with it. Or change things slowly.

The comfort zone is familiar to you. It is a place to reflect knowledge and experience.

If you want to extend it, you have to find your learning or sometimes called stretch zone. This is the place to learn and experience new things. As soon as you get familiar with your new learnings, this will be your comfort zone.

If you go too fast or if you leave your comfort zone too far behind, you might find yourself in the so called danger zone. This is a place where you spend most time on managing fear and anxiety. You will have a hard time learning anything new in this area.

Force yourself to do the things, you are putting off. Set goals. This is an essential part of stimulating your own growth and lets you reach something new.

If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.

What do you really get?

An almost universal factor in personal growth is to step outside your comfort zone. How can we expect to develop in our lives and careers, if we stick to our habits?

Growth

Your comfort zone is providing you a centered and secure environment. It’s natural that you close your doors to change and progress. Your comfort zone kills productivity because without pushing your limits, you stick to a low effort. You get done the minimum required. Fearing change is like disapproving progress and growth. If we do the same every day, and expect the same in return, it will result in a life without purpose and drive.

With the additional effort and ambition to learn new things, and break your habits, you will get further quickly. You will find even smarter ways to master the ever changing word. Set new goals, and go for for them with focus and energy.

We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure - all your life.

John William Gardner (1912 - 2002)

Change and progress

Being in your comfort zone leads you to boredom. Life is constantly changing, and if you are not changing as well, your life will either remain normal, or it will just get harder to cope with things. One of the effects you will see is a lack of progress in your live. Successful people enjoy constantly taking risks, and get permanent development in return.

High anxiety is the place where your mental productivity and performance reach their peak. Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Learn how to be vulnerable and how to cope with it. It will give you trust, joy and creativity in exchange.

Opportunities

People who stick to their comfort zone, are most likely waiting for things to happen, instead of creating it. Don’t wait for it. Use your idle time to look for opportunities, and take risks going for it. Why do we stay in our comfort zone, if so much good happens, if we walk the extra mile?

Getting used (this is the good one)

Start challenge yourself in a controlled and manageable way. If you get used to permanent change, it’s not a big deal anymore. It might even be fun searching for the next thing. You will also have an easier time dealing with unexpected changes, if you get used living outside of your comfort zone.

It will also get easier by time to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.

When challenging yourself and learning new skills, you will also open your mind for new ideas and inspiration. Get used to it, it’s awesome!

Simply, your comfort zone is a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.

Livehacker

My personal comfort zone

Let’s get practical. After all this theory about comfort zones, how does it work out for myself? Anything I want / need to change to grow?

  • English: Improve my language skills. I am especially handicapped by a bad pronunciation, and feel very insecure speaking english because of that. So what am I going to do to solve this? Watch english movies and documentaries. This is easily possible with Netflix these days. My favorite radio show is NPR Car Talk (seriously!). I am not at all a car guy, but this really is entertaining. And finally, it’s one of the reasons why I start writing these articles. It hopefully enhances my writing motivation as well.

  • Sports: Seriously. Regularly. Properly. What else can I say… I might need to reset my goals to something more realistic again.

  • Scrum, Team Building: This is more like a business than a private thing in the first place. I have been in web development for many years, and I get around pretty well. Team building has been a side role throughout the years, but I would like to shift my work further towards team management and processes, and away from tech. To achieve this, I don’t need to just work with the team, but also work on myself as a servant leader. This includes how to be a good coach, moderator and guide. 
    And this again is one more reason to write this blog. What an ideal chance to dive into specific topics and work them out in detail.

I am not yet exactly sure if I want to follow up regarding these personal items on this blog, but you will certainly read about teams and scrum.

Developing Teams

For teams, leaving their comfort zone has a similar impact.

If you look at Tuckman’s model for team building, you have 4 phases each team is going though.

  • Forming: The team acts as individuals and there is a lack of clarity about the team’s purpose and individual roles.

  • Storming: Conflicts arise as people begin to establish their place in the team.

  • Norming: There is a level of consensus and agreement within the team. There is clarity about individual roles. The role of the leader is important in managing this.

  • Performing: The group has a clear strategy and shared vision. It can operate autonomously and resolve issues positively.

Especially going through the forming and storming phases, a lot of time will be spend on conflicts and team building. The effectiveness of the team’s output slows down. The faster you get to an agreement within the team, the faster you are able to spend time as a team. And with agreement, I mean a sort of consensus about competencies and roles. Like you know that you could ask Paul in the first place about API related stuff, as he seems to have the most experience in that field.

You want to get to the performing phase as soon as you can. Now let’s consider that team building part works. As long as the team stays intact, things will probably not change significantly. The performance of the team will most likely stay at this level for some time. How would you still be able to work out more performance in the team?

Of course by crushing the comfort zone of the team. You can either just keep going like you do, or you can spend time on growth within the team. Of course like when crushing your personal comfort zone, you need time to accumulate to the new situation. Don’t expect that there is an increase of performance right away. Throughout the transition phase, you might experience a drop in effectiveness, until the team is getting used to it. Expect that it takes some time through the transition phase to reach the new level of performance.

Because, in the first performing phase, we are disturbing the steady state, we can expect the initial performance to decline as the subject adjusts to the enhanced anxiety levels, and then for performance to rise sharply.

Alasdair White

Education

Instead of spending all time on development, keep time for education and growth. With trainings, the team skills can be improved. But also if there is knowledge within the team, try to share it with pair programming and other XP methods. The more team members have shared knowledge, the easier it get’s to share the work, and to cooperate. This is not just true for developers, but also cross functional. Understanding between design and development is a key factor for a successful project.

Processes and tools

Question your workflows. Are you still working on the same files? Consider spending time on Versioning. Are you sure that your project works? If you don’t do test driven development yet, have one of your team members researching it, and let him introduce it to his team mates. You will save time at the and, and have a better product.

Culture

Everyone is happy? Good. How about improving communication, so that people are not scared to ask dump questions? Implement an environment, where failure is not to blame. „Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.“ (Henry Ford)

And of course, if things just don’t work out as expected each time you try to improve things. Don’t give up and try again. You build up experience of how things work out, and use that for your next iteration.

Scrum

Talking about agile environments and more specifically Scrum, it provides certain things to help you with structure and communication. One of the most important parts of Scrum is the retrospective. In my eyes this is the key factor to improve teams and projects.

The retrospective

In regular intervals (1-4 weeks), the team meets up for a retrospective, to discuss things which went good or bad and tries to change things to the better.

One option is, that the team is working well, and they’re happy about their results. The team could decide to work on specific issues, which would slightly optimize their workflow or their team work.

The other option is, that the team is motivated to increase their performance, they might be able to achieve even more. They could work out personal issues, process related issues and such at an even deeper level. Required is, that everyone involved is also motivated to leave his or her comfort zone. In an ideal case, their Scrum Master is a good mentor and supports the team in their development. This is especially important, as each team members comfort zone and investment in the team is different.

This is most likely only happening in the performance phase of Tuckman’s model, while the retrospective is part of the whole process. The key success factor of a retrospective is trust. If that is not the case, you will most likely not find an environment for growth and development.

Conclusion

This: Continuously redefine normal!

Enough written for now, but this is only a start. It will be an interesting journey, and I am looking forward to it. I am working out some new ideas already. So stay tuned for more.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please get in touch. You can either comment this article, or get in touch directly.



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