The ‘Curse of Brightness’.

Within the Agile communities ‘gaming’ has become fashionable, fun and some would suggest a productive way for teams to learn new skills. It certainly has gained mainstream popularity. It has certainly helped some of the teams that I have coached over the last 8-years.

Gaming reminds me of one of the seminal insights from Belbin (1980), and his work at the Henley Management College of Cambridge in what he termed ‘THE EME’ or The Executive Management Exercise. This was a week-long assessment/ development centre. In this setting, the participants created teams to compete against each other. good fun huh!

The outcome was simple: to finish with the largest proportion of scarce resources. This was how success was framed. What Belbin was able to neatly demonstrate was the affects of a range of important psychological variables. These factors included: IQ, personality measures (the Big 5), as well as creativity.

After some nine or ten years, Belbin and his team were able to claim the proverbial ‘Golden Calf’ of Work Psychology: predictive power! They must have been delighted as we Work Psychologists delight with good data. In other words, they could predict given their assessments which teams would win even before the games commenced. Yes imagine that! Holy smoke! This, by the way, became a successful business model and for sound reasons as you can see.

What can we learn?

There are a number of key insights and these seem to me to be quite relevant for 21st Century Leadership (and Organisational) Development and Coaching:

  • Their initial hypothesis that the brightest individuals brought together as a team would win proved to be faulty/false. What they discovered to their surprise was that a team full of bright (high IQ) people brought “an astonishing disappointment”. To ensure that this insight held-up to empirical scrutiny they repeated their hypothesis around 25 times. And each and every time it highlighted just how flawed it was.

It seems to me that this is worth exploring more fully, and we ought to be curious as to why this was the case. There are for me four key insights:

  1. Bright people spent an inordinate amount of time arguing. I call this the ‘curse of brightness’ in that over time bright people rely more on this strength as their singular or core strength. This creates a number of emotional, psychological and relational ‘blind spots’. The “Apollo team” as they were named by Belbin spent much more time on defending, arguing their own point of view as the ‘right view’ that this meant that other less bright but more collaborative teams made progress on the implementation of the project rather than being ‘fixated’ on generating the right ideas per se.
  2. This meant that decision-making speed was significantly slowed down. Any decision tended to go ‘around and around’ the team. They could not move to any sense of resolution or negotiation that satisfied them.
  3. The most intelligent people resented any sense of imposed organisation. This smacks to me of arrogance; or hubris. They resented leadership in any shape or form. The very notion of ‘followership’ was a ‘dirty word’ and therefore they disrupted any sense of team leader. ‘Herding cats’ of course is the colloquial term for this team dynamic and collective behaviours.
  4. They lacked creativity more than other groups with a lower IQ. Thus, a person with a high degree of creativity will genuinely suffer if placed within an Apollo group.

Solutions for Apollo Teams

So what are some solutions to these problems when faced with an Apollo group or team?

  • Get a trained Leadership Coach in for dialogue training. This will bring the competences, skills and awareness of what genuine dialogue looks and feels like. It will help the team to see the ways in which their dynamics are less productive. I have found that with Coaching Apollo teams do indeed develop dialogue skills, and over time, there will be added value demonstrable improvements.
  • Bright teams require a tough but not dominant leader. This will help the team to ‘settle’ into their roles and align their sense of team purpose. A conceptual constellation exploring their purpose can add value to these ends.
  • Some teams benefit from a rotated Chair. This helps the sense of a participative leadership style. It underscores the temporary ‘servant leadership’ model which in some cases is helpful as each member gets a turn.
  • When the team has an essential need to be more creative (e.g. in the innovation space) then bringing in external Consultancy for this purpose can help. However, Apollo teams might well need to recognise that creativity is not one of their strengths. (I have found that Apollo teams moving to a place where they can even acknowledge this can also aid their collective humility).


Key Reference:

Belbin, R. Meredith, 2010. ‘Management Teams: Why they succeed or fail’. Third Edition, Elsevier Ltd.

Take care, Jason

Is the Scrum Master best placed to be the meta-knowledge champion?

Business Psychology is evidence-based. In other works ‘good’ science. We move away from ‘fads and fashions’ and have an open-minded curiosity about what works; and carefully examine how it works and in what settings- using the scientific paradigm or range of methods to these ends.

So, with that in mind, this week a pod on the British Psychological Society (BPS) website caught my interest as it links to my previous blog, from last week, around moving teams from ‘good to great’. The BPS presenter, Christian Jarrett, does a genuinely fab job of bringing these insights to life.

Firstly, he interviews Dr Julija Mell (from the Essec Business School), and she says that meta-knowledge is “knowing who knows what in the team”. Of course, this does not have to be a Scrum Master although that type of role is quite well placed. You will be reminded that in most IT teams Scrum Masters do not have any line management responsibilities as they are by definition, a Coach. Being a really good Coach is an excellent example of a meta-knowledge champion. You ought to have the time, skills and knowledge to really get a sense of the breadth and depth of each individual. A decent Coach should get to know the team members experience, knowledge, training, interests and strengths. In this way, the evidence is encouraging that you significant leverage to underpin higher degrees of collaboration,   cooperation and team performance. Good news indeed!

But there’s an implicit point in here: and this is having the time, and Coaching training. Of course other roles might have those skills (e.g. a technical lead or a project manager) but this assumption should be tested!

This review of this applied research is fascinating. What we learn is that helping the team members to get to know what they each bring to the team (and I would advocate both technically and as team players too by using a strengths based approach) the team start to broaden their cognitive or knowledge ‘map’ of the total team. In psychological terms their decision-making and problem solving space enriches.

Christian Jarrett then turns his attention to the ‘extra miler’ or the team player that goes beyond the ‘call of duty’ for the team’s objectives. To explore this point he interviews Dr Alex Fradera who shares research that the ‘extra miler’ has a massive  influence (or what we might say a disproportionate positive impact) on the team. This is because they are influencing the team in a significant way; and the good news is that this seems to be a strength that can be carefully (i.e. psychologically) identifiable. And of course, with peer award and reward systems this distinct attribute should be one that is rightly celebrated.

However, there is also a counter-intuitive point too. (I love counter intuitive points as they underscore even more importantly why Psychology is a social science and not simply the latest book at the Airport!); and this is around distribution of star players or the ‘extra milers’. The evidence is that it is best not to have them all in one team; but rather distribute them across all your teams- such is the positive impact they can have. This is akin to the Pareto 80:20 Law. Why? The researchers suggest this is because they are in effect role modelling to the team. In this way, we have the right behaviours as well as the right outcomes. When we have performance appraisal systems set-up that address (perhaps even equally) behaviours and outcomes; this can be an important point. Each team would benefit from both a decent Scrum master or meta-knowledge Champion as well as an ‘extra miler’ for the reasons detailed above.

Lastly, Christian Jarrett then turns his attention to the physical space for the team to work and collaborate within. He asks Dr Katherine Greenaway (University of Queensland) for her advice. She gently warns against a 1920’s ‘lean stark minimalist’ approach as the research is that these are much less effective. Dr Greenaway shares how the relative meaning of the space is important. This team meaning enhances team outcomes such as creativity, productivity and sharing information. Her basic advice is to ask teams to decorate the space to make it ‘more like home’; to have an input into it; and to make it team-centric rather than the ‘bland, white, and corporate look that reminds us of Apple’.

This again is a fascinating evidence-based point.. It underscores the importance of space. It also means that problem-solving space for daily and weekly Stand-Ups should all be co-created by the team themselves in terms of colour, styles and memorabilia that they jointly contribute together. This is another important point; and one that might run counter to current Corporate trends and fashions?

So, in summary, the evidence is that moving from ‘good to great’ teams you would be do well to carefully consider these key three points:-

  1. A Scrum Master or Team Coach that is the meta-knowledge Champion across the various professions with the skills, time and training detailed
  2. Ensure that each team has an ‘extra-miler’
  3. Give permissions for the Team to co-create their own team space that is meaning for them

Take care Jason

NB:- Podcast Episode credits: Presented and produced by Dr Christian Jarrett. Mixing and editing Jeff Knowler. Vox pops Ella Rhodes. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Additional music Zander Sehkri/Zeroday Productions (via Pond5). Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Insights from working alongside a high performance team: Using strengths

This last week I have being working alongside an IT team helping them to improve their team performance. A key weakness for frameworks like Scrum and Kanban is that they have little to offer in terms of actual team development. Thankfully, being a Business Psychologist one of my own professional areas of interest is team development. I am driven to help individuals and teams to find their ‘optimal performance zone’ to improve the ways by which they collaborate, problem-solve, resolve conflicts, communicate and so-on. Moving them from ‘good to great’ as they say.

I’ve found that taking a team through the Clifton Strengths Finder really helpful. Gallup research has found again (and again) that when people within teams focus on what they do best (i.e. their strengths) then they tend to succeed; perform better and are more engaged.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment has helped people to excel for over 22-years. From top business executives and managers to salespeople, nurses, teachers, students, pastors, and others, millions of people have realized the benefits of leading with their strengths.

In 2001, Gallup introduced the world to the original Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment in Now, Discover Your Strengths. The book became a New York Times bestseller and sold nearly 2 million copies. Its author and creator of the Clifton StrengthsFinder, former Gallup chairman Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924-2003), was named the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology by the American Psychological Association


Gallup have found that individuals that use their strengths regularly are:

  • 6x as likely to be engaged at work
  • 6x as likely to do what they do best every day
  • 3x as likely to have an excellent quality of life

This is an impressive set of results and resonates with my own experiences over the last 16-years.

“So what are my strengths and how do they complement my team?” asked one .net developer a few weeks ago. This is a really good question. It is good because it is framed by curiosity and it also underlies a desire to learn and grow; as well as taking personal responsibility.

The product that I have used the most is the Clifton Strengths Finder (Top 5 strengths).

Gallup Strengths Center Store

I have found that the top 5 is a very accessible introduction. It provides enough data for the individual to make sense of. And then you can easily map each of the 5 strengths for each team member across the total 34 strengths. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet for this purpose.

To give you a flavor of these I’ll include my own Top 5:

  1. Relator: People especially strong in Relator talents forms solid, genuine, and mutually rewarding relationships. Their relationships are close, caring, and trusting.
  2. Input: People with strong Input talents bring tools that can facilitate growth and performance. They love to provide relevant and tangible help to others. Their resourcefulness and curiosity lead them to store knowledge that can be culled and shared.
  3. Intellection: The particular genius of people with especially strong Intellection talents stems from the processing that occurs when they think.When they have time to ponder and process, wisdom and clarity result. They can serve as a sounding board that helps others “stretch” to discover new ways to solve problems or enhance the quality of their work.
  4. Learner: People with strong Learner talents not only love to learn, but they also intuitively know how they learn best. They can learn quickly, and when focused, they can keep a group, team, and organization on the cutting edge.
  5. Connectedness: People strong in the Connectedness theme build bridges between people and groups, showing them how to relate to and rely on each other. They help others find meaning in the unpredictability of the world around them, providing a sense of comfort and stability in the face of uncertainty. Putting it simply, their ability to “connect the dots” from the past, present, and future can give others perspective, guidance, and hope.

As you can see this reveals great insight for each team member and then the total team too. I’ve also noticed that something quite important happens in a team meeting when each member is appreciated for what it is that they bring to the team. It lends itself to what we call an appreciative stance to the work.

It also helps the team make sense of one another in new, novel and fresh ways. In the past it has also ‘released’ key energy and movement for the team too. Next, the team can reflect on any immediate ‘gaps’ across the total 34 strengths. They can question if this strength is needed or important for them? Or, can this contribution/ strength be made by someone else outside of the immediate team? Someone like a Senior Responsible Officer, or a Project Manager etc?

Simply seeing or just acknowledging this point can be quite liberating too! I’ve found in a number of contexts (more especially where there is pressure to deliver) that this ‘reframing’ of the positive contributions of those outside the direct team is very powerful too.

It is fair to say that over the last 16-years of using this strengths-based approach with various teams- across a range of professions- I have been genuinely struck by the practical ways by which it has helped moved teams along in their own unique journey from ‘good to great’. I hope it can help you too?

Take care, Jason





Data-driven estimation the power of the Monte Carlo Simulation

Nearly thirty years ago I worked in the Construction industry and one of my roles was to create estimates for how long a future novel piece of work would take in time/effort; resources and then attribute a risk profile and lastly the margin of return known as gross profit. At that point we have something like ten different teams. I say teams. We called them gangs. Whilst some of the gangs were relatively stable others were not given the fluid nature of the jobs in the pipeline team members needed to move for short periods of time. I would often seek to bring gangs together in response to the size, complexity and milestone (payment dates) as back then much of the work we did was earned value given key milestones.

How did we grow a successful business? There were many key factors that made the family business distinctive: branding; attitude to safety, strong leadership; performance-related pay and bonus schemes; highest standards of training; professional accreditation and many more. But for getting our estimates right? Monte Carlo was key. We were a deeply data-driven and data intelligent business.

Stated simply, the Monte Carlo simulation furnishes the decision-maker with a range of possible outcomes and the probabilities they will occur for any choice of action.. It shows the extreme possibilities—the outcomes of going for broke and for the most conservative decision—along with all possible consequences for middle-of-the-road decisions.

Stated briefly, Monte Carlo simulation provides a number of advantages over deterministic, or “single-point estimate” analysis including:

  • Probabilistic Results. Results show not only what could happen, but how likely each outcome is.
  • Graphical Results. Because of the data a Monte Carlo simulation generates, it’s easy to create graphs of different outcomes and their chances of occurrence.  This is important for communicating findings to other stakeholders.
  • Sensitivity Analysis. With just a few cases, deterministic analysis makes it difficult to see which variables impact the outcome the most.  In Monte Carlo simulation, it’s easy to see which inputs had the biggest effect on bottom-line results.
  • Scenario Analysis: see exactly which inputs had which values together when certain outcomes occurred.  This is invaluable for pursuing further analysis.
  • Correlation of Input model interdependent relationships between input variables.  It’s important for accuracy to represent how, in reality, when some factors goes up, others go up or down accordingly.

Of course, you do need a decent understanding of statistics. To this day I am still very grateful for my practical training back then, as well as completing advanced statistics such as multiple regression, analysis of variance and mixed analysis of variance when I completed my MSc in Organisational Psychology at Cardiff University.

One of the most exciting prospects of the current online Kanban tool is that we are starting a journey of moving from guess-estimates (data neutral based on faulty human reasoning and bias) to a data-driven science of estimation. And delight of delights? This tool has an in-build Monte Carlo simulation! Yes…dreams sometimes can come true…

Have a good weekend,






Working Authentically: How Conceptual Constellations Are Helping ‘Team IT’

A few months ago I attended a first-class training course with Ed Rowland and Sarah Rozenthuler on ‘Conceptual Constellations’. You can check it out for yourself on their website here: The Whole Partnership

Fast forward to this week.. as we tested the methodology with a specific team within an IT Directorate with over 130 staff. With this team we prototyped the viability of the methodology, as we explored two important and powerful questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this team within the IT directorate?
  2. What is the purpose of Team IT within the wider organisation?

To these ends, we used a combination of techniques and approaches that I had learnt from the training including: floor mapping; dialogical techniques; team constellations; as well as team self-organising so as to capture their sense of desired direction/ movement for their desried future.

We also mapped potential blockers or impediments to the desired movements. Next we then identified the team resources that they could call-on to help them to ‘unblock’ thes blockers.

This is a (simplified) example of what I am attempting to describe as a conceptual constellation.


Whilst the exact outcomes are confidential to the team, there were three insights that resonated with the team members that lend themselves to sharing by way of dissemination:

‘Authenticity is a powerful way of unlocking collective intelligence’

‘I have a genuine sense of where we want to go (as a team) that has moved through me both emotionally and in so many other ways’

‘Seeing us standing here together sharing what is important and why has been important…we don’t do enough of this’

I’ll address these three important insights in turn.

‘Authenticity is a powerful way of unlocking collective intelligence’

Authenticity is a sense of being one’s genuine self. Carl Rogers had a lovely description that I think captures it well. He talks about the human that is fully functioning. This involved movement “away from facades, from oughts, from meeting expectations, from pleasing others, and towards self-direction, openness to experience, acceptance of others and trusting oneself” (Joseph, 2016; see p. 34).

Abraham Maslow puts this sense of authenticity in a similar way and says that such people tend to be “realistic in their perceptions, accepting of themselves and other people, guided by inner goals and values, able to form deep relationships, not needing to seek other people’s approval, and well-adjusted to their culture but not immersed in it unthinkingly” (op cite).

We witnessed this within the workshop as team members shared their own sense of the purpose of their team. Next they shared their experiences/ stories that their team members could sense as authentic (in an embodied way). This early activity helped to      co-create the right team environment for the workshop session; or what in the literature is referred to as a ‘safe container’.

‘I have a genuine sense of where we want to go (as a team) that has moved through me both emotionally and in so many other ways’

Towards the end of the workshop session the team used what they had learned and experienced as they self-organised and constellated around their desired future. They mapped where they collectively desired to move; and then identified any blockers to that movement. During a previous activity (that morning) the team had identified their resources that is to say their collective strengths, skills, competencies and experiences that they could draw or call-on.

It is fair to say that there is something powerful about conceptual constellations with these ends, or aims, in mind. There is an ‘unlocking’ of collective sense-making; energy (physical as well as within the team field too); and team collaboration that is moving in so many different senses of that word.

It is fair to say that the team have been moved. They have a sense of collective moving that was unknown before we started. We did not pre-plan or design this in a priori. In other words, this collective energy and movement emerged through the constellation. It was awesome to witness.

‘Seeing us standing here together sharing what is important and why has been important…we don’t do enough of this’

Teams do have a variety of meetings or ‘coming together’. Each meeting has a different objective and style and this is appropriate. However, what really struck this team was the powerful, engaging, collaborative, energizing and experimental power of constellations when we are exploring powerful or profound questions.

When I say powerful questions I have in mind deep, profound or difficult questions like the ‘why’ type of questions. Of course, ‘What is the purpose?’ is an excellent example of this type of question.

Such questions often mean that we have to move the unit of analysis ‘away’ from the individual or even the team. As Ed remidned me recently “It is like we need to google map or zoom out to see something bigger: the whole as well as the parts”. So powerful questions are most often ‘Big Picture’ questions or systemic in nature. This means that the answers are complex. Within this IT team it is authentic to report that they found that conceptual constellations were an excellent approach.

Have a life affirming festive period.

Take care, Jason





Lewis Hamilton winning the Grand Prix: Lessons for Agile teams?

We all like to win! And I am no exception! There’s something thrilling and life affirming about beating the odds; winning despite genuine difficulties and overcoming set-backs to finally win at something that’s important to us. Some would argue that one of the things that ‘defines’ winners is their personal resilience. Next their humility is also key as many commentators note that when exceptional sports people lose they learn how to ‘dig in deep’ and learn from their failures. This deep learning is important for future success.

So with this ‘winning’ theme this week it was Lewis Hamilton that gained my attention (and many others too!). There is no doubt that he is a very talented race driver. This week I saw him win the Bahrain Grand Prix with an impressive victory. Behind the winning driver there is, of course, a whole team helping him to win.


From the outset this includes the car design itself which often includes new innovations and cutting-edge technologies. Next, there are the ways by which the innovative design is ‘converted’ into a robust and agile build. Next, there is of course the plethora of testing to ensure that the car is reliable, stable and so on.

Once we get the car ‘on the race track with the driver content that it meets his requirements and expectations we have the team that ensure that once he’s ‘on the road’ that he has every possibility of success this is the all important pit team. Each and every millisecond (quite literally) ‘counts’ as the significant difference between success and defeat.

Take the last race as a case in point:


In terms of the race history and analysis it seems to me that there are three key facts.

Firstly, the two laps between Vettel’s first stop and Hamilton’s meant that the world champion rejoined the track with Rosberg and Vettel right behind him! This naturally prompted Hamilton to rightly ask: “What the heck happened to my lead?”

Next, the answer to his question adds weight to my previous point around the importance of the pit team; as the harsh reality was that Hamilton had a slow pit stop. When we combine the slow pit stop with the advantage of new tyres for his opponents or what we refer to as ‘fresh rubber’ -that these two factors had allowed Rosberg and Vettel to make up time on Hamilton and this was the reason the ‘gap’ had closed in on him. This in the racing world is known as the ‘undercut’.

To his credit Hamilton did not let this closing gap in his lead to frustrate him, so that he lost his focus, energy or determination quite the opposite in fact, as again, he skillfully and steadily built-up his lead until the next set of pit stops. At this stage in the race, Team Mercedes took the rightful tactic to stop Hamilton first so as to ensure there was no threat from behind, as in the previous scenario. Hamilton then went on to win!

High performance teams! They truly underpin innovative and cutting-edge products and services.

I’d like to share seven ways by which collaborative teams communicate qualitatively   differently when compared to less effective teams. Now to be fair these are broad themes/examples taken from my own empirical observations, but none-the-less, I hope that they are added value and thereby worth sharing in this method.

It seems to me that individuals, or team members, from high performance teams, can be often heard to say things like these when they are seeking to improve what they are doing together as a team:-

  1. I’d like to add to what Peter has said by adding that…
  2. I think we can take what Jane and Jack have shared so far and by bringing their insights together I think this would help us to…
  3. Kalee’s insight is important for us and I think we can develop this further by…
  4. Az we all recognise that you have expertise in this area; can you be our ‘critical friend’ and gently tease-out what our assumptions have been and see what this helps us to learn?
  5. I find Aaron’s contribution really exciting and I think he’s on to something here; I can’t contribute right now but just need a short time to reflect on this idea for a minute or two
  6. Can we draw a diagram of Rachel’s idea and play with it for a short while? I need to ‘see it’ so I can add value to her contribution…
  7. Mo is on to something really quite important the best way that I can connect with this emergent idea is by sharing the one drawback so we can co-create this development further

As you can quickly see this style of communication is under-written by a type of appreciation for one another. Each team member recognises, values and collaborates with others. They further develop their emergent ideas. Even when they are acting as ‘critical friends’ it is framed in a collaborative way. Next, some team members seem skillful in ‘connecting’ different ideas from various team members and further integrating or synthesising them. Lastly, this is no room for ‘group-think’ in here. The framing/espoused or ‘first’ principles of honesty, respect and commitment are evidently embodied personal values by which the team co-create grounded solutions.

Take care Jason.