5 Whys is a blog about technical leadership in the software world.

Elastic Leadership Team Survival Vs. Team Chaos Vs. Cynefin


I've decided that the word 'chaos' isn't a good match to describe the phase where a team has no time to learn.
Instead, the word 'survival' is going to be used from now on.
There are several reasons for this:
1) The word 'chaos' is already used in the context of another decision framework called 'Cynefin'. 
 Cynefin is a powerful framework that uses scientific arguments to describe various states teams and systems are in. 'chaos', in the context of Cynefin, is a state where given an action in the system, the results will be totally random.  In that sense, 'chaos' in the elastic leadership framework as I present in this blog, means something else. 'chaos' (or 'survival' from now on),
is a state where decisive action is needed, and a specific set of results is expected. 
My notion of elastic leadership does not deal with a state where there is no telling what action needs to be taken. It divides the world of states into 'survival' (no time to learn), 'learning', and 'self organizing'. 
In terms of Cynefin, I only deal with complex and complicated systems. Though I'm not sure where 'software team' as a system lies between these two notions.
2) The word 'Chaos' was initially chosen out of necessity. I had no better word to describe this phase. After  discussing the Cynefin framework ideas with Dave Snowden via email,
the word 'survival' came to me, and I think it much better described the phase I believe most software teams are, unfortunately, in.
There for, a team can have three phases:


  • Survival phase (where most teams I see are in) -- in which team has no time to learn -- requires a more command and control type of leadership to create that learning time from nothing.
  • Learning phase  -- where a team has time to learn and is using it -- requires coach like leader, with bursts of control when things will take too long to learn the hard way (choosing no source control, for example)
  • Self Organization Phase -- Where teams can solve their own problems -- requires more of a facilitator type of leader, that does not tell people what to do, but simply provides constraints and end goals. The team will get there on its own.


A team can move between all three phases in a matter of days, really.  The leader should detect this phase change, and change their leadership type accordingly.

Consulting and Leadership Courses in Scandinavia

Assume you are wrong