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Observations from Collaborative Working Experiments

I can remember my first ever Diversity course.  I felt uncomfortable but I needed to.  I felt relieved and I needed to.  I felt enlightened somewhat and I valued that.  It was a post-Stephen Lawrence world where institutional racism had been identified and my large Government Department employer was doing the right thing in tackling things head on.

Fast forward to 2018, and there’s still a LOT wrong with how inclusive, equitable and diverse our world of work is.  Don’t even get me started on the rise of “alt-right” and so on.  I am aghast at how superficial many people’s compliance with fairness and humanity has been and their new resurgence to challenge everything as liberal snowflaking and political correctness sets my hackles to maximum raise.

And so to a “side hustle” to equality and inclusion.  I say side hustle because that’s ever so trendy to use that term but I do mean something that isn’t set up directly to tackle inequality of opportunity or treatment on protected characteristics or socio-economic circumstances and yet it does.

I’m talking about people working collaboratively in new circumstances.  I’ve been working with a range of organisations across all sectors and a variety of industries and I’ve seen something really interesting outside of learning how to use Design Thinking, Agile, Scrum and Autonomous Squads.

The interesting unplanned benefit I’ve seen is unbiased inclusion.  I’ve seen natural equality.  I’ve seen incredible valuing of diversity.

How come?

Here’s my thought on how come.

  • We’ve removed the power that comes with privilege of role, background, ethnicity, gender, age, experience,   Well, OK some societal norms prevail in that sometimes the older male member of a Squad appears to take charge of the pen and sticky notes or the more mature woman holds court on most decisions on who does what.  YET, the junior in role, inexperienced, eager member of the team suddenly is listened to differently by the finance expert, the IT developer and the legal team leader.  I’ve seen the most enthusiastic and playful member of the team turn out to be the Head of another department suddenly freed from the shackles of their core role.
  • We’ve changed the language.  So no-ones in charge.  Even the product owner (commissioning senior person) isn’t really in charge of how you go about doing what you do – yes sign off but that’s at the end when it’s “show & tell” time.  So this has created a shift from previous hierarchical language and power-based role playing.
  • We’re a contribution-based team.  Those who chip in, show up and care get to shape, say and do the things that build the solution, product or thing.  I know some people don’t like the term meritocracy as this is still steeped in you show merit sometimes because of your social standing and role etc.  But these squads of people really do get their direction, influence and shape from those most active, keen and who lean in.

So there’s something going on in that environment where all sorts of biases seem to disappear.  Is it the focus on the task?  Is it the fact that no-one’s in charge except in the interest of the Squad?  Is it because we turn up on intent and energy and not on role and privilege?

Guess I’m throwing it out there that in some cases, the removal of systems and replacement with something more open makes us more tolerant, accepting and inclusive.

A case of unlearning and relearning?  Maybe but I’m working over the coming months in this environment more and more and am now being more observant of this mini-phenomenon in action.

Diversity, Inclusion and Equality in action?  Maybe, just maybe, we’re creating different systems based on new lines of code not the previous biased operating system.

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