I have a systems archetype in mind that is troubling me. I am annoyed that some of the current (and past) one-ups-man-ship around Agile is distracting us from the useful constructive dialogue I crave.

The archetype I am thinking of “Escalation” is where “my fix is your nightmare and you have to lose in order for me to win“.

Situations can get sticky with too much escalation

Situations can get sticky with too much escalation

Think of the American movie “A Christmas Story” about young Ralphie Parker and his own dilemma with “Escalation”.  In this classic scene, Ralphie’s friends Flick and Schwartz dispute over whether a person’s tongue will stick to a frozen flagpole. Schwartz ultimately issues Flick a “triple dog dare” (the most serious of childhood dares); bypassing “triple dare” and resulting in a serious breach of boyhood protocol.

Dares, blames, accusations and hard stances all contribute to the distraction and destruction that is associated with “Escalation”. When everyone is trying to win, the system suffers. Anyone’s “win” is nobody’s win; and anyone’s “loss” is everyone’s loss.

I see no place for this in Agile and yet the fight is on. Triple Dog Dares are becoming business as usual.

Escalation is Killing Agile.

So why the heck are we involved in so much escalation around things like “My Agile approach is better than your Agile approach” or, “Well, you’re only in it for the money” or, “I’m going to make fun of you until you stop what you are doing“?

How is ANY of this furthering my growth or our organizations’ growth in Agile?

In a systems view of the world, we can see patterns made up of balancing loops and reinforcing loops. In the case of “Escalation”,  we see factions sucked into a downward spiral reinforcing loop of fighting. The more someone fights, the more the fighting continues.

In our case, the fight may be about certification, or timeboxes, or engineering practices, or continuous improvement, or tools. Fights then lead to blaming and finger pointing. And in the systems view of things, once you get into blaming individuals or other parts of the system, your system is broken. Not the individuals, the system.

So in our Agile world, I ask, “How is this fighting useful? Could someone explain that to me? And how is it our system has metamorphosed into one that allows (encourages?) blame and mockery, one that remains so, or even worse, seeks to move further and further into this archetype?

For me, a more useful approach is to find balancing loops. Here, we seek to create more knowledge in dialogue not blame. We seek insights with others interested in dialogue, not in escalating debates and accusatory blame. We look toward inquiry versus advocacy and so we seek people interested in this kind of work, not fighting.

One way I intend to take advantage of balancing loops is to seek people interested in Agile growth NOT in attacks on approaches or individuals. I’m thinking, for instance, of Linda Rising as a good example. Linda has been our steadfast beacon of reaching into kindness versus violence or fear or confrontation to use our personal perspectives usefully and creatively.

I’m done with all the distractions that don’t feed my growth. I’ve lost the ability to abide behaviors that don’t give evidence of what was written with conviction in the Agile Manifesto. The train has left the station on a number of initiatives within Agile, Let’s stop fighting them. More fighting isn’t going to make anything go away. Instead, we will just feed “Escalation”. Let us get on with where each of us can find and contribute to growth. Please.

Here is my personal commitment going forward:

My personal commitment is to seek those interested in creating more and more insights about how we can grow and learn. I will seek dialogue around various Agile approaches and what can contribute to the growth of Agile. I will not take delight in anyone’s cleverness or meanness toward an approach they don’t support. I will seek voices of engagement, deeper intention, non-blame, and creative inquiry. “Escalation”, to me, is like the old joke of trying to teach a pig to sing: it only annoys the pig and it frustrates you. I have no intention of spending time with such activity in Agile.  It distracts and annoys me. You’ll have to figure out for yourself how it serves you or hinders you.

So, moving forward, let us think about true dialogue. Let’s challenge ourselves if that is what we invite in each of our interactions. To add encouragement and inspiration, think about the etymology of the word – dialogue:

From the Greek “to gather reason through speech, usually between two people“. I invite each of us to reach for gathering not escalating.

Without this intention, we will all lose.

About the Author: Jean Tabaka is a wine enthusiast, author and Agile Fellow at Rally Software Development. Subscribe today to get free updates by email or RSS.

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