Holacracy vs. Kanban vs. Scrum

Holacracy is said to be improving on Scrum, Agile and Getting Things Done. It’s supposed to make any team run better by continuously evolving the roles in the team to better fit the work. Is it really better than Kanban or Scrum? Let’s find out.

Holacracy means that the whole of the team is in charge, not just the manager. In essence Holacracy is a process to organize self-direction and self-organisation in teams. Self-organizing knowledge workers are proven time and again to be more productive than managed ones. I researched Holocracy with the aim to discover new insights for building self-organizing teams.

Getting Teams Done

I based my research mostly on ‘Getting teams done’, a practical guide for implementing Holacracy. Getting Teams Done is written in the style of ‘The Goal’ and ‘The Phoenix Project’. There’s a factional story of a team that makes the transition from a hierarchical way of working to a Holacracy. This makes the book easy to read and digest. Apart from the book I did some interviews, read a couple of experiences with Holacracy and I consulted the official Holacracy website.

How Holacracy works

In Holacracy a team is called a circle. The Holacracy process has two mandatory meetings for every circle: the governance meeting and the tactical meeting. These meetings are supposed to happen biweekly and alternating. The difference with Scrum is that the meetings have a very strict process. In Scrum you’re free to optimize the process and only the input (what to inspect) and the output (what to adapt) of the meetings are defined. This gives Scrum much more room for continuous improvement.

Holacracy roles

In Holacracy a role is defined as a set of mandates and responsibilities. They are the power and the responsibility to get things done. It’s much like a function description except that it’s not everything a person does in her a position: it’s just one of her roles. Unlike a function it also explicitly evolves. So as a person you might have multiple roles. Or you might share a role with other people. The role definition is short and clear to everyone involved.

Example role definition:

Content marketeer

– Planning and publishing content in order to make the brand visible to clients and future clients
Domains (mandate):
– Content plan
– Publishing content to blog and social media
– Brief third parties for content
– Spend €10.000 per quarter for boosting posts
– Growing the Audience
– Generating quality leads from marketing content

Note that the role describes work that never finishes. It contains verbs that are infinitives. I think this role definition lacks empiricism. It would be better if there were a measure of success. How do you know if you’re doing your work well? What are ambitious goals you could achieve within your role that would really impress the rest of the team?

Holacracy has 4 predefined roles:

  • Lead link: Defines priorities & strategies. Assigns roles.
  • Representative link: Represents team in super circle in order to resolve tensions that originate from there
  • Secretary: Record keeping, mostly with regard to roles
  • Facilitator: Leads the two Holacracy meetings and makes sure the rules are enacted

‘Tensions’ and the Governance Meeting

Governance in Holacracy is based on an interesting concept: the distinction between roles and people. This is also a basic concept in deep democracy. The nice thing about separating roles from people is that you can discuss discuss the performance of a role without becoming personal and emotional.

When the roles in a circle don’t fit the work or the circle members, they feel tensions. Sensing and discussing tenstions is very important in Holacracy. Tensions make up most of the agenda of the governance meeting. The goal of that meeting is to resolve those tensions by tweaking the roles or policies for the circle. The process is based on consent: the circle is not looking for perfection. It’s looking for a good-enough solution that doesn’t raise any valid concerns.

‘Obstacles’ and the Tactical Meeting

The tactical meeting is much like a Kanban daily standup: it’s about the work to be done. This meeting misses many of the powerful aspects of Scrum and Kanban, however. There is no motivation to focus and reduce work in progress. Neither is there a drive to finish work so new work can be started. It’s just a weekly discussion of any obstacles that might have come up. In my experience waiting for a week to discuss obstacles with the team is way too slow. Furthermore all obstacles are discussed, person by person. I’m not sure this brings enough focus in the team. It feels like a bit of waste.

In Holacracy the individual roles are supposed to track “projects”. “Projects” are defined as having specific outcomes that require multiple sequential actions to achieve and that would be useful to work towards, at least in the absence of competing priorities. They are written with a past participle. E.g. “Analytics system implemented

I think the downside of this is that projects tend to become individual people’s responsibilities. This hampers flow and team commitment.

Full Holacracy ruleset

I won’t go in every detail here. If you want to see all rules there is a constitution that defines all rules of Holacracy. Team managers are even required to sign it and literally “cede their authority into the constitution’s processes and endow the due results therefrom with the weight and authority otherwise carried by the ratifier(s), as further detailed in section 5.1 thereof.

Interesting Holacracy elements

I’m not tempted to try and implement Holacracy as a whole. The process is just too restrictive. I’m much more at ease with a framework approach like Scrum. Yet there are some elements that I will adopt.

1. People are not their role. They fulfil their roles.

I will make a point of separating roles from people in my Scrum coaching practice. This will make switching roles easier. It will also improve the quality of the retrospectives.

Don’t say: “She IS the Scrum Master,” but say “She’s fulfilling the Scrum Master role this sprint.”

2. Roles should be continuously clarified and evolved.

I will add a retrospective technique to my collection where we pay special attention to roles. Dependability is an important factor in team performance. Clear roles will improve team dependability a lot. I will develop a retrospective technique where every role is a ‘bucket’ and the whole team can reflect on them. In a typical web team this could be: Scrum Master, Product Owner, Front end developer, Tester, UX designer,… In my experience the responsibilities of each role always depend on the skills of every team member and the challenge at hand. Clarifying and evolving them is bound to increase commitment and productivity. Maybe the roles can even have their bit of wall space in the Scrum room.

3. Tensions fuel continuous improvement

Tensions are usually regarded as a bad thing. While Scrum celebrates diversity and makes a point of involving experts from multiple disciplines in the work, it does not explicitly say a difference of opinion is good thing. I’ve seen teams devolve into single minded steam engines. That hampers agility because more eyes see more risks and opportunities.

By celebrating tensions and crediting them for the continuous improvement they fuel, conflict becomes less of an emotional thing. Where people work together there will always be conflict and tension. The trick is to harness it for productivity.

Conclusion: Holacracy vs. Scrum

Holacrcy is more related to Sociocracy than to Agile and Scrum. However, as the method positioned as “a concrete framework for encoding autonomy, agility, and purpose-alignment into your organization’s DNA,” I will compare it to Scrum and Kanban.

If your team is moving fast, changing fast, innovating fast, Holacracy might not be the right choice for you. It’s improvement cycle is too slow. The focus on tension at the individual level is no guarantee to produce visionary organizational value. Kanban brings more focus with a simpler method at the expense of defining clear roles.

I wouldn’t call Holacracy agile, because it’s not empirical like Kanban and Scrum. There is little motivation to move the needle as a time. It seems that Holacracy is more like a gearbox and optimizes every individual gear to mesh well with the others. Scrum and Kanban are more like a snowball. They gain momentum all the time, yet remain open enough to change course when needed.

great for operational teamsgreat for operational teamsgreat for innovative teams
biweekly improvement rhythmdaily improvement rhythmdaily and biweekly improvement
built-in scaling modelfocussed on the team levelfocussed on the product level
predefined roles (Lead link, secretary, rep link)no rolespredefined roles (Scrum master, product owner, development team)
strict processstrict principles, flexible processframework adapted to needs
focus on tensionfocus on flowfocus on value

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Switching from iPhone to Fairphone: day 4 to 10

After my initial few days of Fairphone 3, here’s an update with more hands-on experience. I decided to keep it, despite of its shortcomings. Read on to find out why.

NFC payments. Hurray!

I was able to set up my bank (ASN) with the wireless payment on the Fairphone 3. This is something I was not able to with iPhone. On iPhone I was limited to Apple Pay and there’s only one bank in my country that supports that.

I paid with NFC a few times now, at a restaurant, barber shop and supermarket. And it is awesome. So easy! I have two accounts, one business and one personal. I can select either of them, hold my phone next to the terminal and approve payment.

Camera troubles

The camera is a disappointment. Yes, it’s 12 Megapixels. Yes it’s the sensor as the Pixel 3a. But it’s not very light sensitive. So if you’re lucky to get a sharp photo it will still have a lot of gaussian pixel noise.

Only 1 out of 4 photos I took were focused well. This could have to do with the long shutter times. Or maybe it’s a bad focusing algorithm. I hope Fairphone can fix this.

The auto white-balance isn’t very good either. Manual white balance settings improve the pictures a lot.

Below are some pictures that illustrate the camera issues.

More pixels than an iPhone 11 Pro

I’ve come to appreciate the large rectangular display on the Fairphone. It’s easy to read in daylight and dims enough at night. I like the response to touch. It’s full HD panel is sharp and has more pixels than an iPhone. The bottom line is that it gets work done in those small moments where you can’t get your laptop out.

Returning my old iPhone for recycling

I sent my old iPhone 7 to Fairphone for recycling. I used my Fairphone box for that. You can generate a free shipping label on their website to get a €20 rebate. Sadly the shipping label they generate doesn’t really fit the box.

So you thought the iPhone 7 was big? Here’s an iPhone 7 in a Fairphone box. Ready for shipment.
Shipping label wrapped around the Fairphone box. It took me 5 tries to get a sharp photo. Maybe the camera has a problem with a large depth of field?

Navigation & long lasting battery

I used the Fairphone for navigation last week. I don’t have a car charger for USB-C, but I didn’t need one. The battery was enough to navigate me to and from my appointment easily. Google Maps activates Google Assistant by default. This means Google listens in to all your conversations in the car. It also means you don’t have to push a button for voice dialing, which is really nice. I appreciate the fact that phone calls do not hide the navigation screen. With an iPhone it was extremely frustrating to receive a call in the middle of a trip. It would hide the navigation directions and just turn off the phone after the call! I had to ask a passenger to switch the iPhone back to the navigation app for directions.

Picture transfer to my Mac

Getting pictures from the Android phone on my Mac and into a blogpost was a bit of a challenge. It is a very important feature to me, because I use smartphone pictures for sharing my training content. Here are the options I tried:

  • Google Photos: This is the default on Android. Before you know it, Google grabs your pictures and ‘syncs’ them. I’m not sure I like the privacy implications of this. Furthermore, there’s no way I can ‘sync’ Google Photos down to my Mac. Google has a bit of a one-way definition of the word syncing. There used to be a backdoor using Google Drive. Google disabled that recently.
  • Dropbox: Dropbox has an option to upload all camera photos to dropbox. Again I’m not sure about the privacy implications here. Although I suspect the scheme is to upload as much stuff as possible so people start buying the paid upgrade. What I don’t like about Dropbox is that it duplicates everything. It makes it hard to clean up and remove unwanted photos.
  • DS Cloud: With my Synology server I have the option of syncing a Cloudstation folder on Android with my personal server. No privacy issues here. It’s encrypted over a secure layer. It syncs the complete phone content to a special share I made on my NAS. It was very little arcane to set up and it only worked after restarting my Android phone. But now I have complete acces to my Android on my Mac via a two-way sync. I can add and remove files easily. Awesome!
  • USB cable: Good old Image Capture with a USB cable doesn’t work with Android. It works with all my cameras, iPhones and iPads, but sadly not with Android. I wonder what I’ll do is my Android storage is full. Normally I use Image Capture to download everything and delete the downloaded files on the camera. No such luck anymore. There are some shade Mac apps that let you download photos. They all require a separate app to run on the droid, and none that I found let you delete imported pictures.
  • Bluetooth: Old bluetooth file transfer works fine with Android too. It’s a lot like Airdrop, but way harder to use. I prefer the DS Cloud option over this one. Bluetooth is a nice fallback if there’s no secure Wifi available.
Bluetooth file transfer

Some other AirDrop clones I tried. They worked, but they were a lot of hassle.

Android, apart from the photos

I actually started to LIKE Android. It seems less quirky than iOS. The UI takes some getting used to after iOS. But then it’s all quite coherent. I really like the swipe keyboard.

Android is especially comfortable if you go to the crossroads and sell the privacy of your soul to the Google.

You don’t even have to sign in blood. All your settings, devices, contacts, files, calendars, accounts and history are synced through Drive and your Google account.

Android doesn’t have some of the strange limitations that Apple is imposing on it’s apps. Apple forces Appstore purchases. Apple limits access to hardware and some frameworks. For instance, Apple recently banned Electron apps.

VPN is also better on Android. I can force it to be on at all times. This was impossible on iPhone. It just feels safer on open or semi-open WiFi.


I started researching alternatives to the Fairphone with a better camera. iFixit keeps a repairability score. The Fairphone 3 scores a solid 10. The Shift 6m is just behind that, but it has worse performance specs than the Fairphone. Apple’s repairability scores have plummeted after the iPhone 7. My previous phone was a refurbished iPhone 7. That’s a very sustainable phone, because it’s reused and repairable. However it proved not to be as waterproof as advertised. If Fairphone decides not to produce a camera upgrade, I will look for another Android phone. Maybe a OnePlus. Definitely not an iPhone.


I’ll just stick with the Fairphone 3. It’s clunky but it replaces my wallet. It does regular payment and loyalty cards. I hope it will do NS train gates in the future. It probably won’t replace my credit card for toll roads and parking garages.

If I need great pictures I’ll just drag around my DSLR. My Canon definitely makes better pictures than an iPhone 11 Pro.

In the end, the Fairphone 3 works OK and it makes me feel like I’m making this world a little better. That’s very important to me. Isn’t it for you too?

Switching from iPhone to Fairphone: day 1-3

Last Friday my Fairphone 3 arrived. Yay! In this article I’ve collected my thoughts after using it for three days. I expected a world of hurt when transitioning from my iPhone. In reality the transition went pretty smooth. But it wasn’t all perfect. Read on to find out why.

I believe our power as consumers is greater than we think. We can not only vote in elections, we can also vote daily with our purchases. When I ordered my Fairphone last august I voted for fairness and sustainability. It was a risky bet because I’ve been very dependent on iPhones in the last few years.

The concept

For those of you unfamiliar with the Fairphone concept, the idea is to offer a phone that lasts longer because you can repair it yourself. The materials are sourced 99% fair and slavery free. I’m not sure that the repairing aspect makes the Fairphone more sustainable than any other phone. In my town there are at least 3 shops that repair an iPhone screen or swap a battery while you are waiting. And it isn’t that expensive either considering it’s pretty much hassle free.

Unboxing the Fairphone

What’s in the Fairphone 3 box

The Fairphone comes in fairly large box and there’s no charger included. The bottom 3 cm of the box is taken up by a screwdriver. The screwdriver looks uncomfortably small. I think I will have misplaced it before I ever need it. I suppose the designers wanted to make a statement with that screwdriver. Including a screwdriver as an option when ordering spare parts would have been more user friendly I guess.

Unlike the iPhone packaging this packaging contains no plastic and is fully recyclable. And it’s even better than recyclable: you can use the packaging to send your old phone back to Fairphone. They promise a EUR25 rebate and sustainable recycling.

Bulky and rugged hardware.

My first impression of the phone was: massive. It’s 10mm thick with it’s bumper. It’s more than 16cm high. It’s like walking around with a brick the size of a scientific pocket calculator in your pants, but heavier. 

The back side is translucent and shows the internals of phone that should be easy to repair. 

The screen is sharp and bright. It’s a rectangular full HD panel. Unlike the newest phones the screen doesn’t go all the way to the edges. That’s OK with me, but I would have liked a hardware home and a back button to save screen space. 

The speaker on the Fairphone is on the left side. This means the palm of your hand will be covering it if you’re a lefty and the volume will be really low.

Unlike iPhone the Fairphone has two sim card slots and an SD card slot. I’m using only one sim, but for many people a second sim is very important. I put a 64Gb micro SD card in the SD card slot, but I haven’t needed it so far.

A fingerprint sensor that takes some practice

The fingerprint sensor is on the back. It’s either very secure or not so accurate, as it often requires multiple tries to recognize my finger. This means you have to pick it up every time to unlock it. When working I usually liked to leave my iPhone flat on the table. I then unlocked it with the home button from time to time to look something up.

Fast charging USB-C

The Fairphone has a modern USB-C socket. If I use my USB-C Macbook charger it says ‘Fast charging’ on the lock screen and takes about 90 minutes to fully charge.

Fairphone 3 charging rapidly on a MacBook Pro USB-C charger


The camera was the biggest disappointment. The specs promised a 12MP camera. That didn’t sound too bad. However, it’s slow, it shows artifacts and isn’t sharp. Yesterday I was at a party and I ended up asking my friends to message me their pictures because mine were blurry.

I suppose the camera will be functional at work. It will capture flip-over sheets just fine. It will also scan tickets and documents. But don’t count on beautiful memories of parties you were at.

The camera is a hot competitive item on smartphones these days. Even the cheaper ones have great cameras. The Fairphone lost big time. I really REALLY hope they release a camera upgrade you can install yourself. Maybe even a Fairphone 3.1 that ships with a better camera by default.

iOS to Android

I expected a new operating system would be the biggest of my problems. I have invested in some iOS apps and expected to loose a lot. However, the software transition was easier than the hardware transition. It turns out the apps I use are either free or subscription based and I could transfer my subscription to android. The only exceptions I found so far are Green Kitchen – a recipe app – and irealb – a sheet music app. I can still use those apps on my iPad. I did not use iCloud very much. At some point I will have to migrate all iCloud notes to google drive. Google has many free and ad-free apps that work really well. I hope Google does not turn evil one day, because they now everything about me now.

I also didn’t use the iCloud keychain very much – I have different password storage. This made logging in to my apps on Android really easy.

I’m going to miss airdrop – I used that a lot. Maybe google drive will be some kind of substitute. I’m also going to miss the Apple Siri Shortcuts app. 

On the other hand I really appreciate the Android widgets and the Glide Typing keyboard.


So far I think the Fairphone is a reasonable phone for the price. It’s rugged and functional. If it would have had a more expensive version with a better camera and maybe a faster processor, I would have bought that one for sure. The Fairphone 2 was never upgraded with partially better hardware. I hope the Fairphone 3 will get life extenders to stay relevant in a fast market. Let’s see what the next few days of Fairphone use have in store….

What I learned by coaching FLL kids part 1: how to build a fresh team in 6 steps

How do you make a high performing team from 8 individuals? You start by getting to know each other. But what works well in practice? This is the first in a series of articles. In this series, I’m sharing my experience of building a brand new team of eight unruly 7th graders. The team goal is to compete in the First Lego League. Working with kids is a special challenge because they are brutally honest, highly sensitive and wildly creative.

I love LEGO, I love building great teams so I thought: why don’t I build the greatest First Lego League team I’ve ever built? Through my practice I’ve become convinced that atmosphere in a team is the greatest driver of performance, joy and success. I view the atmosphere as sculpture. It’s a rough block when you start out with a new team. It could have some nice edges. But overall it needs careful shaping. The first step with a new team is getting to know each other. With the method I describe here you can easily break the ice and lay a foundation for a safe atmosphere.

Safety is the foundation for great creativity.

How to get to know each other with The Teammate Quiz

Time needed: 20 hours.

This is 20 minute game I did to quickly build relations beyond the superfluous. It has 6 simple steps. The goal is to quickly gather facts about your teammates and be able to remember them in a quiz. It’s good practice to write instructions on a flip chart while you’re explaining them.

  1. Instruction part 1: how to discover facts about other people.

    Explain how asking interesting questions will reveal facts about other people. Suggest interesting questions to ask: Who’s your superhero? What do you detest? What makes you smile? What’s your name? What’s your favorite food? Brainstorm with the team about other interesting questions. Avoid the obvious: sports, computer games, age,…

  2. Instruction part 2: how to remember facts

    Explain how it’s hard to remember loose facts but easy to remember stories. An easy way to make stories from facts is asking: why? For instance if I could mention my superhero is Batman. Point out that this will be hard to remember among the superheroes of 9 other people. But if you ask me why, I will tell you that I love the fact that Batman builds his own gear together with Alfred. He keeps inventing new and cool stuff to catch the bad guys. I’d like to be like that too. Now there’s a memorable story of me in my Bat Cave building the coolest inventions.

  3. Learn about your teammates – timebox: 10 minutes

    Instruct the kids to chat in groups of 2 or 3. Instruct them to switch groups a lot because they need to gather facts about everyone in the team.

  4. Quiz part 1: ask one person to start

    Gather around in a circle. Ask who wants to start. Have her step forward. She will expect to have to start reciting facts. However explain that it’s going to be about her. The others will be tested instead!

  5. Quiz part 2: popcorn!

    Invite everyone to share as much facts as possible about the person who stepped forward. When no one has any facts to offer anymore, explain that it’s just like popcorn. Facts go pop! pop! pop! And when all the facts are done the popping stops. It’s time for a new person.

  6. Quiz part 3: have the quiz subject select another person to step forward

    As a reward for daring to be the center of attention the person in the middle can choose someone else and step back. Go back to step 5.

Insights after the Teammate Quiz with FLL kids

I found that the kids were more willing to cooperate in sub-teams because they would discover new shared interests. They were eager to build LEGO with newfound ‘friends’.

Secondly, I found it hard to steer the conversation away from computer games. I like to avoid discussing computer games because they bring a competitive mindset, induce bragging and lead to shallow conversations. I would be interested in how other people deal with this.

Lastly I found that kids needed way more tips to keep the conversation going than adults. They seem to be naturally more interested in themselves than in others.

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If this article was useful, remember to share it with other people who might benefit. You can point them to my facebook page about teamwork. You can also point them to LinkedIn. If you’re interested in LEGO MINDSTORMS specific information I have a separate website called Anton’s Mindstorms.

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Teamwork tip 3: Escape the road to hell by looking at intentions

This is the third article in a series of teamwork tips & tricks. The first tip was about aligning the things you do with the things you want. In the second article I discussed work-life balance. This article is about looking beyond other people’s actions and working with their intent.

I once worked in a team where one of the team members would regularly skip team meetings. And if she attended, she’d only be there for half the time. It felt like she was unmotivated to contribute. At times it even felt like sabotage. The strange thing was that I knew that person as a hard-working and honest. So I decided to investigate and have a chat. It turned out her honest intention was to save the company money by focussing on work she felt was more valuable. Her actions seemed like sabotage on the surface but her intention was to be more productive.

Investigating the intent

What helped in this situation is carefully making the distinction between actions and intentions. Aligning your actions with the things you want to achieve is hard. And it gets worse: misreading other people’s intentions might upset you and lead to conflict.

For instance, imagine someone makes a sneer at you. You can let it hurt you. And then you can hit back with something even nastier. You could also investigate the intent. Try to investigate it calmly. Usually there’s an unmet need behind a sneer. The sneering person has probably failed to ask nicely. Try asking ‘What is it you need?’ or ‘What did you want to tell with that remark?’ Pro tip: avoid asking ‘Why?’ — this can be perceived as judging and escalate a conflict.

In the book ‘Effect’, the authors call this the law of heterogeneous substances. Action and intention seems one and the same – in other words: homogenous – but really aren’t. Upon closer investigation however, they are heterogenous. They are made up of different things.

Escaping the road to hell

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I once – naively – believed that if only I was honest and intended well, people would appreciate everything I did. I learned through frustration, conflict and disappointment that this was not the case.

Three strategies will help you get off that road to hell.

  1. Empathize: before you act, try to imagine what impact your action will have on the other.
  2. Communicate: Explain why you are doing things while you are doing them.
  3. Be patient: You can generally assume other people will make no distinction between your actions and intentions. They could react in unexpected ways.

Reputation en relationship

When other people guess at the intentions behind your actions, your reputation is a big factor. And your actions and words make up your reputation. Seeing intent and communicating your intent will improve your reputation. This will in turn ensure that people guess wrong less often.

The same goes more or less for relationships: great relationships are built on shared values and intentions. Building solid relationships will give you the benefit of the doubt when people guess at your intentions.

Conclusion: great teamwork does not come from good intentions alone

You will be a better team player if you see the distinction between actions and intentions. This goes both for your actions and the actions of others. And there’s more good news: great relationships and a good reputation will cut you some slack. Now go be a nice team player and share this article!

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Teamwork tip 2: balance needs and shoulds

This is the second article in my series about great teamwork. It is about work/life balance. Ever wondered how you can be part of a high performing team without burning out? Read on!

Long term and short term team performance

There are a lot of things in life that I’d love to do, but don’t. Some examples: just staying in bed when I have to work, eating that whole bag of crisps, binge-watching a Netflix series, just staring out of the window,… These are short term urges and they will get me in trouble in the long run.

These urges come from the proverbial belly. The belly points us in the direction of our needs. Luckily there’s also a proverbial head to keep the belly in check. The head steers us towards the shoulds.

In every team people have stuff they should do for the team, and the stuff they just need to do from time to time. It’s a fact of life. But how can you balance the two while keeping productivity up?

The rebelling belly

When you’re born, you’re all belly. As you grow up you gradually learn social behavior. You get better at planning and long term goals. Your head kicks into action.

The belly does not go away however — and that’s a good thing. The belly stays to remind the head of your bodily needs. It even keeps tabs and can intervene at inconvenient times if you ignore it for too long. The belly rebels against overexertion.

Why is all belly and head stuff so important for teamwork? In the teams I coach, people are using their heads most of the time. They are expected to! This means they tend to ignore their proverbial belly.

Ignoring the belly is a dangerous thing, because having too many unmet needs can make people cranky, stressed or depressed. None of that is good for teamwork. Conclusion? We humans need to balance the head and the belly.

The art of balancing head and belly

“Balance? That’s boring,” you might say: “In our team it’s rock and roll! Stretching limits!” I have discovered however, that balance can be very dynamic and slippery. Take any YouTube video of an extreme sports athlete: their art is extreme dynamic balance!

The high art of extreme balance

So, for teamwork work/life balance means:

  • Creating some room for needs between all of the shoulds.
  • Getting off your butt and start doing something when you’re ready.
  • Making time to unwind when you feel pressured.
  • Getting some proper alone-time when you’ve been talking a lot.

Where’s the threshold? It depends. I try to be mindful of my focus: when my productivity drops I take a break. It’s not hard to notice a productivity drop, but it’s hard to act on it. At first this felt counterintuitive. I used to think that the best remedy for lowered productivity was just working harder or drinking more coffee. Taking a break however, rests the mind. The rest usually brings insight in why the productivity dropped in the first place.

Meditate for 15 minutes per day. If you don’t have 15 minutes, meditate for an hour.

Zen saying

Taking true breaks

There are fake breaks and true breaks. A fake break is just doing something else with your proverbial head: checking your email, checking social media or playing a computer game. This kind of activity doesn’t give the mind any break.

A true break is just doing nothing with the head. Activities that work well for me are:

  • Talking a walk
  • Chatting over a cup of coffee
  • Going to the toilet without smartphone
  • Peeling an orange
  • Mindfully drinking coffee or tea

I try to avoid mindlessly drinking coffee at my desk. I try to make coffee into a true break. Coffe can be something social or something mindful.

Conclusion: maximize teamwork by balancing work-life

Productivity and rest, the individual and the team, the needs and the shoulds: they are all deeply intertwined and need to be balanced continuously.

Does this mean that the team should work less? Should you set your ambitions lower? Not at all! You need to work better. Working your butt off is important to achieve great goals. However, you can only really work your butt off if you carefully tune the balance between belly and head.

About this series of articles

This article is part of series of articles about team work. Together they form a summary of the book summary of ‘Effect’. It’s a book full of from a team of ice skating champions. In the previous article I wrote about how the things you do are often contrary to the effect you desire.

My next article in this series will be about investigating the intent behind other people’s actions and how that helps to create better teams! Are their bellies or heads speaking? Subscribe here and don’t miss the next piece.

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8 teamwork insights from an ice skating champion – summary of the book ‘Effect’

‘Effect’ is a book about effective teamwork. The title refers to the strange fact that your conscious actions don’t always have the effect you desire on other people. The book is written by ice skater J.O. Koss and psychologist B.M. Ihlen. They wrote down their team coaching insights after winning several olympic gold medals.

Their book was originally intended as a sports coaching manual. The ideas in the book however, are relevant for any team. Here’s the first part of my book summary. I summarized the book in eight insights for effective teamwork.

Insight 1: our actions don’t always get us the effect we want

Let’s start with a story to illustrate the basic idea. It’s a fictional story, yet it’s true to life. It’s the story of John. John works as a researcher in an R&D team. John is participating in a team building training. At some point during the training, the trainers ask the participants a very personal question. How much do they like working in their current team? John readily admits he doesn’t like his job, nor his team. He complains that his achievements always go unnoticed. There’s usually no one to help when he’s in trouble. And, most of all, he wishes for more support and recognition from his teammates.

His case is thoroughly investigated during the course. The trainers keep asking him questions about the case. John is visibly exhausted and becomes a little annoyed by all the attention. Then, at some point, another student interjects: “Well, John, the trainers are giving you a hard time. Why don’t we take a break?” John stays tough and replies: “Nah. People who come to a training like this should be able to handle this.”

It’s hard to do teamwork with a team of Johns

Think of the effect of John’s statement. Does it encourage John’s fellow students to give him the support and recognition he craves? Is John fostering effective teamwork with his fellow students? What would have brought him closer to his desired support? I bet you can think of three other things John could have said! His teammates are eager to help, but they probably don’t know how. Making sure teammates understand each other’s needs leads to more effective teamwork.

Be mindful of your intent

In retrospect it’s easy to point out mistakes. It’s not that easy to spot them just before you open your mouth. What helps me is being mindful of my intentions and needs. If you do this, you’re more likely to spot mismatches between action and desired effect. For me two very concrete activities help:

  • Listening to body language and spoken language alike. If something doesn’t feel right, investigate right away.
  • Keeping a diary. It’s great for keeping track of the things you truly want. They’ll be more top of mind. It’s also great for learning from mismatch mistakes.

What’s your most successful strategy to get the things you want? How do you get along and do effective teamwork? Share it in the comment section!

Team coaching with more Effect

When coaching a team I try to be mindful of other people’s mismatches. When I see friction, I quickly try to make the mismatch explicit with direct evidence. After the friction is resolved, it’s a great moment to discuss this insight with the whole team. This way more than just two people can learn and the team can quickly become more effective.

For brevity I’m splitting the summary in 8 separate articles. In the next article I discuss balancing your needs and shoulds. Be sure to share this article with whomever could benefit from it!

Choosing by Advantages in 6 steps

I have seen many decision making methods. Of all of them, the Choosing By Advantages method by Jim Suhr stood out as the most effective and rational. Here’s a step by step guide.

Choosing by Advantages (CBA) is a decision-making system that acknowledges all decisions are subjective. It guides users however to collect, prioritize and compare facts before choosing.

Jim Suhr, the creator of Choosing by Advantages: “First, we teach people how to use correct data. Second, we teach them how to use data correctly.”

The basic idea of Choosing by Advantages

The basic idea is to look at differences between alternatives instead of weighing criteria. Classic choice methods use ‘positives’ and ‘negatives’. Every positive is a negative however, depending on the anchor you choose. CBA therefore advises to use clear anchors and compare the advantage of a difference.

CBA redefines some terms in decision making in a more precise way. Before I can explain Choosing by Advantages, we first need to be clear on those definitions.

  • Alternatives: Things, plans or ideas from which you will be choosing one.
  • Attributes: A property or consequence of an alternative. For instance: color, weight, estimated ROI, carbon footprint,…
  • Advantage: The difference between the attributes of two alternatives. One of them is the anchor – usually the best alternative.
  • Factor: An attribute that is important to the decision. You don’t factor in every attribute to a decision. That would be messy.
  • Criterion: A filter to select alternatives that meet minimum requirements. Not used when comparing alternatives.

Example of Choosing by Advantages: my family’s summer holiday

Let’s look at an example here: choosing where to go on holiday with the family. We have to make a selection out of a couple of alternatives – considering my family doesn’t want to stay at home. The point here is that Choosing by Advantages facilitates the discussion with me and my stakeholders – that is: the rest of the family.

I kept the example relatively simple in order to be able to explain the method. The complete method has some extra bells and whistles to deal special cases.

Step 1: Select Alternatives

We have several criteria for the trip. The criteria we have for a holiday are:

  • Wide open nature
  • Different staying locations
  • Some city trips
  • Reasonably accessible for families

So no extreme mountain climbing. We came up with two trips that satisfied our criteria: a canoe trip in Sweden or a tour of the national parks in the north west of the USA. After the selection of the alternatives, the criteria are not helping us any further — they don’t make any difference anymore. So we move on.

Step 2: Decide on the factors

The next step is to select the deciding attributes of the trips – the factors. As factors my stakeholders and I considered:

  • The number of unique natural wonders (like geysers, canyons and sequoia’s)
  • The number of interesting cities on the trip
  • The carbon footprint of the holiday
  • Swimming possibilities
  • The probability of there being great food to taste
Alternatives and the factors for comparison

Step 3: Gather data for attributes

The gathering of data can be math and research, like the calculation of the carbon footprint. However, it can also lead to interesting discussions between the stakeholders and a fruitful exchange of views. Take, for example, the Unique Natural Wonders. What counts as one? What doesn’t? We decided the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Geyser and Sequoia’s counted, but lakes didn’t.

Overview of relevant attributes (data) in each factor

When all data have been found and decided on, it helps to underline the least preferable attributes. More isn’t always better!

Step 4: Calculate advantages

Now CBA starts to shine: we’re going to look at the differences between the alternatives. When they are numbers it’s simply a matter of calculation. When they are statements, it can be another comparative statement.

Advantages in each deciding factor

Step 5: Value advantages

We’re almost there. Now starts the difficult task of comparing the value of all advantages with each other. For this we start with the most important advantage and rate it 100. Next we discuss the comparative value of the advantages with the kids – our little stakeholders. They decided for instance that seeing one natural wonder was comparable to swimming and playing in the water for week.

Advantages scored for relative value

After my family and I decided on the relative value of each advantage we could simply add up the scores.

Step 6: Decide with the budget in mind

The trip to Sweden is the clear winner here. But what about the money? Doesn’t cost of an alternative matter? My family doesn’t have a limitless holiday budget. Price however, is a special factor. That’s because money, like time, carries an opportunity cost. I can spend my time and money only once.

CBA choice table fully filled out
Completed CBA choice table with cost

The trip to Sweden is not only the most advantageous, it weigh less on my budget too. Even if the US trip would have won, the price difference here means that it would not allow us to go skiing next winter. The whole holiday budget would be taken up. That would have led to another interesting discussion with my stakeholders: are these great US national parks also worth skipping a skiing holiday? I guess not.

Anyway, our choice is clear: we’re going to Sweden!

Video explainer of CBA

Here’s a reasonable video explainer, although it’s a little slow.

Ideas from Peopleware

In 1999 Tome Demarco en Timothy Lister published their second edition of ‘Peopleware’. Their insight is that software development projects fail not because of technology, but because of communication. Yet what managers do is manage technology, not the communication in the team.

Why? Technology, stuff, procedures, and such are tangible, orderly and easy to influence. When comes to communication the problem becomes hairy, impossible to analyze (because analysis changes the situation) and chaotic. Hence the title of the book: peopleware, as opposed to software.

Good analysis, dated suggestions

I really like their basic insight, though many of the “solutions” they suggest are a bit dated or not well researched. For instance they suggest switching to email for all communications, because it doesn’t interrupt your work. In the meantime everybody knows email leads to a lot of misunderstanding. And with the blackberries and outlook tray icons email too is interrupting your flow. Some ideas, though, I found really valuable.

Noisy, windowless workplaces are a waste of salaries

About a third of the book is a crusade against noise. Open space is the worst for productivity. People need quiet to do thinking work productively, and a window. The symptoms are that people work late “in the quiet hours”, book meeting rooms or just call in sick to get important work done. From my own experience I really recognize the loss in productivity. My philosophy was already not to give precedence to the phone when I’m talking to somebody live, but now I also reduced the number of rings of my phone to 1. And I require of my people that they turn outlook off during the four hours of the morning.

Productive hours vs. hours of bodily presence

We all have experienced a state of flow: deep productive concentration where time seems to fly. It takes at least 15 minutes to get into. So the real productive hours are the uninterrupted hours. It is amazing how little really productive hours we have if you start looking at it like that.

Give high performers what they want

Some people don’t want more money for their performance, but just the means to perform even better. They are highly intrinsically motivated and should be supported in that. The book tells of a company that sponsored a complete home office at the request of a high performing employee. That made me think. I now put much more effort in providing the high performing people reporting to me with the tools they ask for. I don’t care if it’s company policy, or “what would happen if everybody started to ask for that” – an often heard objection.

Music makes you perform better on focused tasks but makes you miss out on the big things.

A nice experiment with two groups of programmers. They were asked to write some number manipulation algorithm. Groups working with and without music both completed the algorithms within about the same time and with the same performance. But only the group without music noticed that the net result of all the manipulations was the same is the input! To this I also can ascribe. When I do production, stuff I know from experience I put up music. When I need to think wider, shift paradigms and integrate a lot of ideas I need absolute quiet.

Let people move in the office

There is a lot to say in favor of letting people choose their place in the office. They can collocate with the people +they+ feel they need to work most with. It creates real short communication lines. But the extreme version of that, flexible offices, where nobody has a fixed desk but only some drawers on wheels doesn’t work either. Here you have no place to ground, to install yourself, feel at home and get stuff done.

Change and creativity is born out of chaos

Now that is an obvious one. But the insight here is to see brainstorms, pilot projects, war games, trips, conferences celebrations, retreats, training experiences is injections of chaos, as breaking out of the ordinary.


The authors frown on bureaucratic procedures and the high disregard of human capital with high turnover rates or downsizing. And they touch on the subject of teams and communities as means of making work fun and productive.