Biases can create confusion and cloud the future.

Biases can create confusion and cloud the future.

Motivational biases (also known as social biases and attribution biases) reflect errors we make when evaluating the rational for both our own behavior as well as the behavior of others.  Misperceptions of what is driving behavior can cause communication problems amongst team members and erode team trust. A sample of common biases that affect IT teams in this category include:

The halo effect is the tendency for either positive or negative traits of an individual to overwhelm the perception of other traits by those around him or her. Recently, I observed a discussion between a very charismatic .net coder and a network administrator. The coder’s charisma increased the weight of his argument which led to an agreement that probably should not have occurred (and was later renegotiated when others got involved). The halo effect cost the team time and energy going over topic more than once.

Illusion of transparency is a bias in which an individual overestimates another individual’s ability to know them, and/or overestimate their own ability to understand what is driving someone else. It is an inescapable fact, humans interpret each other’s behaviors and actions, assigning a rational to each action and reaction. Conflict can occur when interpretations of behaviors are wrong and that conflict can lead to reduced productivity.

Teams are a core feature of most modern IT organizations. By definition all teams have a boundary. Hardening of team boundaries can lead to intergroup bias. Intergroup bias causes members of a group to give preferential treatment to others that are members of the group. Overly hardened team boundaries makes it more difficult for new ideas to be introduced through the team boundary leading to intellectual atrophy. Coaches and leaders should encourage group cohesion but help teams avoid severe intergroup bias.

Fundamental attribution error refers to a scenario in which an individual overemphasizes personality based explanations for behaviors (e.g. they are lazy, they aren’t very smart) in others while underemphasizing the influence any situation had on driving the behavior. When fundamental attribution error rears its ugly head on any team, a coach, scrum master or leader should surface the problem, usually in a retrospective, and facilitate its resolution. When the bias is deep seated it may be necessary to leverage professional human resource facilitators or ultimately to change the team composition.

An understanding of motivational biases will help team members understand the behaviors of team members and those around them. Biases can cloud our understanding of why people are behaving differently than our expectations. Our understanding and how we react behaviors can lead to misunderstandings and conflict which reduces effective and productivity. Leaders and coaches need to spend time understanding how to recognize and mitigate biases. Coaching should invest in training in counseling and facilitation skills.