All types of teams have biases.

All types of teams have biases.

The second class of biases affects how we behave or how we tend to group. How we group into teams effects decision making which completes the cycle and reinforces how the individuals in a team behave. Many of the filters and shortcuts that we develop help us to successfully interact with the environment, however, they can negatively impact team effectiveness. A sample of common biases that affect IT teams include:

A zero-risk bias reflects a team preference for mitigating a small risk down to zero rather than dealing with the mitigation of a larger risk that they can’t drive to zero. This bias can be seen not only in risks but when developing difficult (therefore more risky) stories. This can lead to a team to do the easy pieces of work early in a sprint leaving the more difficult work until late in the sprint, including the likelihood of not completing stories during an iteration.

The bandwagon effect occurs when there is a tendency to adopt an idea (or to do something) because an external group or crowd believes the same thing. For example, when a particular concept is touted on the cover of all the industry journals a bandwagon effect can build to adopt the idea.  When I was a child I used the “everybody is doing it” refrain to try to convince my mother that staying out all night was a good idea; she did not buy it. The bandwagon effect is more common with teams that exhibit ideological homogeneity because there are fewer alternative perspectives to provide resistance. Where a common core belief is strongly held, groupthink can make adopting new ideas difficult because it is easier to adopt.

I am firmly convinced that if I watch my alma mater play football on television they will lose (my wife suggests that I am not that powerful). This bias is called the illusion of control, which is defined as the tendency to overestimate one’s (or a team’s) degree of influence over external events.

The social desirability bias can be problematic, especially during retrospectives. The social desirability bias is the tendency to over-report desirable behaviors while underreporting undesirable behaviors. Team or individuals that fall prey to this bias tend not to be able to identify and deal with the tougher people issues that can occur on teams. When this bias is present in a team, a coach or leader needs to safely expose behavior problems or risk deep-seated dysfunctions developing.

Team composition is important. Most of us would agree that team members should have a broad set of capabilities and that members should push each other intellectually. When a team is assembled by a leader with a social comparison bias, membership decisions are made so that those who are on the team don’t compete with the leader’s strengths. This type of bias (and there are a number of biases with similar impacts) leads to teams that will rarely challenge the leader’s perception of the status quo.

Biases drive behaviors. When biases generate poor behaviors, such as only believing data that support your ideas (expectation bias), the effectiveness of the team and its members will be reduced. When the behavioral biases are benign, a coach or leader can help the individual and team sort out problems. However, some biases generate behavior that is far less benign. Where bias is causing serious team issues, I strongly suggest involving a trained human-relations specialist.