There is this popular flea experiment which was used by many authors and speakers to discuss topics like paradigms, limits, beliefs, and perceptions etc. If you have not heard of it, here is how it goes.
In an experiment, a scientist placed a number of fleas in a glass jar. They quickly jumped out. He then put the fleas back into the jar and placed a glass lid over the top. The fleas began jumping and hitting the glass lid, falling back down into the jar. After a while, the fleas, conditioned to the presence of the glass lid, began jumping slightly below the glass lid so as not to hit it. The scientist then removed the glass lid as it was no longer needed to keep the fleas in the jar. The fleas have learned to limit themselves from jumping beyond the height of the lid even if the lid was removed as they have been conditioned to the fact that they cannot escape from the jar.
It occurs to me that we might be facing the same conundrum in the domain of project management. Recently, I have seen a number of discussions going on in forums and blog posts which asked questions similar to this – “Should we have more flexibility in our methodologies and processes?”
Isn’t this analogous to what we have just observed in the flea experiment? If we started off by allowing too much freedom, things will go chaotic. It is like putting the fleas in the jar without covering it with a lid, they will jump out and escape in no time. If we tighten the control and governance, people will start to learn and follow the rules just like the fleas that have learned not to jump beyond the height of the lid. Things may go well and in proper order for some time. However, if we do so, are we restricting the potential of individuals to go beyond their limits? Are we stopping them to be creative and adventurous? What will happen if we remove the lid now? Will they still stuck with the psychological invisible lid that hovers above them just like the fleas? People may get accustomed to their comfort zone and stopped challenging the status quo. Are we guilty of turning a good team into a legion of zombies that only follow instructions? We need to be cautious and take all these concerns into consideration when we impose control and governance in our operational processes. It is not just about control anymore. It is also about the kind of culture we want to foster in our team.
Do you have an invisible lid over your team?