Social Complexity is a topic that does not get enough attention in the Agile community. Even if Social Complexity has been studied for a long time and has a significant influence on the study of groups, and society at large, we seem to have dropped it, or even missed it’s importance in the world of Agile.
Agile organizations, and agile teams are a prime subject for the use of tools and methods from Social Complexity research. So what do we need to learn from that field in our roles as Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches
What is Social Complexity? A primer for Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches
Social Complexity is a method of investigation that assumes our observations to be only a small part of what is actually happening in teams and organizations. Jurgen Appelo refers to the book Reality Is Not What It Seems, by Carlo Rovelli, to illustrate that the “amount” of context we take into our analysis changes our perspective. In other words, we are always missing something, and that something may be critical for us to make sense of our observations.
Ari-Pekka Skarp, a student of social complexity through his work as both an Agile Coach as well as a psychologist, tells us that complexity is a natural part of social interactions, and is derived from the fact that people are unpredictable in their interaction with other people. He shares the example that an angry interaction between two team members, may lead to a series of interaction patterns in the future generated by that angry interaction that we might not have been there to witness. As Ari-Pekka puts it: “the source of complexity is the human mind”.
How Scrum Masters can use understanding of Social Complexity to their advantage
Understanding Social Complexity and it’s existence leads us to ask: how can we use this knowledge to our advantage, in our mission as Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches?
We discuss different insights we can apply, starting with the idea that, because we can’t predict the impact of our actions, we need to put in practice a curiosity-driven way of acting at work. In other words, ask questions, and be ready to be surprised.
Because we can’t predict the impact of our actions, we need to put in practice a curiosity-driven way of acting at work.
— Vasco Duarte
Ari-Pekka also reminds us that there are different levels (or types) of complexity we need to be aware of. The existence of those different types of complexity make it naturally hard to understand what is going on, and require us to be adaptable in our actions as Scrum Masters. In the end, this means that, to be a great Scrum Master, we must accept that the knowledge/information we need at any point in time needs to be discovered as we do our work, and a “pre-defined set of ideas” is never going to be enough for us to do a good work: we must discover the knowledge we need to succeed during our journey, at the right time when the challenges happen.
we must discover the knowledge we need to succeed during our journey, at the right time when the challenges happen.
— Ari-Pekka Skarp
Jurgen reminds us that we, as humans, participate in many different communities and the knowledge and experience we collect from those experiences will inform our decisions and actions. The knowledge we collect from participating in many small communities will become an asset for us as a Scrum Master: learning how TV shows are made, and how those processes differ from the processes used in movies, can serve as an inspiration for the work we need to do in our own organization.
The knowledge we collect from participating in many small communities will become an asset for us as a Scrum Master
— Jurgen Appelo
About Jurgen Appelo and Ari-Pekka Skarp
Jurgen is a serial founder, successful entrepreneur, author, and speaker. He is pioneering management to help creative organizations survive and thrive in the 21st century. He offers concrete games, tools, and practices, so you can introduce better management, with fewer managers.
He’s also been a guest this week here on the podcast. Check out the episodes with Jurgen in the link included in the show notes.
Ari-Pekka Skarp is Organizational Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Agile Coach. He has extensive experience working on large scale organizational transformations as well as with employee wellbeing in occupational healthcare. His special areas of interest are complexity, compassion and social interactions.
You can link with Ari-Pekka Skarp on LinkedIn and connect with Ari-Pekka Skarp on Twitter. You can also read Ari-Pekka Skarp’s English language blog at Fractal Sauna.