A question from Tom Evans:

Have held discussions with leading experts in agile programming across St. Louis over the last year. The question I always come to that they cannot seem to answer is “how can we measure cooperation in agile teams?” Or more specifically, what is the metric with which you measure cooperation within an agile team. Without fail, the answer is “Collaboration cannot be measured. People will game the system.”

Leaders in agile have responded this way at: 

  • Agile Openspace 2016 with some 60 agile coaches in attendance,
  • with a VP at Asynchrony Labs,
  • with the director of agile coaching at Centurylink,
  • with the director of the agile transformation at Monsanto,
  • and most recently at an Agile MeetUp group last night in Chesterfield, MO.

At this MeetUp group over 30 leading agile coaching professionals unanimously decided in a “lean coffee” discussion that “measurement of collaboration is impossible in an agile team because people will game the system.” The thought that people are too dishonest by nature to be tracked by a rubric is worth considering. Are there ways to measure collaboration or essentially productivity in a nontraditional agile workplace without people “gaming the system?

Response from Ted Wohlfarth:

Cheating is a significant issue in life. Government, business, romance, education, engineering, religion — most aspects of life are damaged by cheating. Cheating is any violation of the standards that people expect in a healthy relationship.

Cheating is poison for a relationship because it undermines trust. When people cannot trust each other, they need to devote resources to policing and preventing cheating — they cannot concentrate all their energy on achieving their purpose — their goals and objectives. When people can trust each other, they can focus on doing their part in the effort of their family, business, government, community — whatever context they are living and doing.

What is the solution to the problem of cheating?

Exposure is part of the answer. As soon as cheating is revealed and the cheater is exposed, those who feel cheated can respond appropriately. But to prevent cheating, we need to look at the beliefs that motivate cheating.

To prevent cheating it helps to start with a basic understanding of the systems of thought about relationships that make cheating enticing:

  • When people are in a win-lose relationship, cheating is advantageous to one side — at least in the short run.
  • When people are in a win-win relationship, it becomes obvious that cheating hurts both sides.

For example, playing games that keep score of collaborative performance (as opposed to win-lose or competitive performance) gives players experience with the harm that cheating creates for both sides because the more players cheat in a win-win game, the more difficult it becomes to win. As soon as people see the benefits of upholding the standards that enable other people to succeed in achieving mutually-beneficial goals, the enticement to cheat begins to fade.

EnTeam games are designed to give players many opportunities to explore win-win relationships and the benefits of developing skills needed to foster collaboration between different sides. By playing games that foster winning together with people from the other side, the issue of cheating is easily perceived as mutually harmful.

For those who have experienced playing EnTeam games, please share your insights on the ways that cheating can be undermined by learning to win together with those who are on the “other side.”