Agile, Business Agility

The “Happiness Metric”​ Part 1

The “Happiness Metric”, it’s one of the most popular metrics in the Agile community today. Some organizations consider team, and sometimes organizational, “happiness” as a necessary ingredient for high productivity and value creation. But is this really true? Is “Team Happiness” a prerequisite for high productivity and value creation ……. or is it just a consequence of high productivity and value creation?”

In this article I would like to examine the first part of my question: “Is ‘Team Happiness’ a prerequisite to high productivity and value creation?”. (I will cover the second part of my question“Is ‘Team Happiness’ a consequence ofhigh productivity and value creation?” in part 2 of this article).

To explore if “Team Happiness” is a prerequisite to high productivity and value creation I’d like to start by telling a story. A story about one of the most successful teams in U.S. history.

 I call this story “The Dynasty”.

The Dynasty

Once there was a team, an extremely successful team. A team that, year in and year out, was recognized as the best at their craft. Coincidently this team was also a rather diverse team for its time, containing members from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. This team became so successful that it became recognized as one of the best teams in the history of its industry. They had a unique team dynamic and the members had unique interpersonal relationships.

During their most successful years this team was widely known to be contentious at best, combative and downright dysfunctional at worse. They fought among themselves constantly. They’d insult each other, criticize each other in front of other team members, threaten each other, and be on non-speaking terms for long periods of time. One team member would later say “Those guys had some truly vicious tongues, when they’d start talking about each other, it was something to behold.

Sometimes the verbal attacks and threats would escalate into physical altercations. Some physical altercations escalated into brawls. Team members suffered sprained ankles, injured shoulders, head gashes and even a herniated disc requiring the team member to be put into traction. As another member of the team would later say: “We had some characters and we were beating the (expletive) out of each other. But we still won.”

You’d think that these “incidents” would be enough of a challenge to overcome but there was more. The team’s boss was a notorious micro manager and the cheapest man in the industry. He paid the team the lowest salaries in the industry even though they were recognized as the best. The boss would publicly say they weren’t worth pay increases. The team universally hated him. One team member publicly called his boss “A cheap son of a bitch”.

And in the public is where it all played out, with millions of people reading about it and hearing about it.

But despite all this they became the most successful team of their time and is considered one of the best in history.

So, you may be asking:“Well, who was this team” and “what industry did they work in?”

Well, the team was the 1972, 1973, and 1974 Major League Baseball World Series Champion Oakland A’s and they are one of only two teams in the 116 year history of Major League Baseball to win 3 World Series Championships in a row, qualifying them as a Dynasty (the New York Yankees was the only other team to do it and they did it three separate times).

Now, you may ask:“How in the hell, amongst all that turmoil and hostility, did this team become­­ so successful?”

Well it’s safe to say it wasn’t “Team Happiness”.

We can also leave out “Management Support” while we’re at it.

The things that allowed them to overcome all the turmoil and hostility and achieve greatness was:

Purpose

The team had a purpose, to prove they were the best at their craft. They wanted to prove it against their competition, to their cheap @#* boss and especially to themselves.

Cross-functionality of Skill Sets

The team was highly skilled in all the areas needed to be successful

Long lived Autonomous team

Most of the team members played together for years in minor league baseball before being promoted and playing together in the major leagues.

As quoted by the most famous member of the team, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson: “We had played so long together as a unit that we knew where everybody would be without looking…. It was all instinct with us.”

Baseball?

OK, I know what you might be saying: “Baseball! baseball! Are you kidding me man? Agile teams create advanced technologies that help improve people’s lives and you’re talking about freakin baseball! Give me a break!”

OK, maybe using a sports team example could be considered a bit of a stretch. Perhaps there’s a technology company that was very productive and successful, maybe even legendary, where happiness of the staff was not a contributing factor to the company’s success. Hmmm, let me think, there must be at least one. Think now… think …think, oh yeah, that’s right: Apple and Steve Jobs. Intimidation, abrasive criticism, downright cruelty, these were the calling cards of Steve Jobs. He created a culture of fear at Apple, yet no one can deny the legendary success he created there.

Is “Team Happiness” a prerequisite tohigh productivity and value creation?

Based on the two examples I provided in this article it can be safely concluded that “Team Happiness” is not a prerequisite to high productivity and value creation.

So now you might be wondering: “OK, so ‘Team Happiness’ is not a prerequisite to high productivity or value creation. Are you trying to say happiness plays no role in Agile at all? I don’t believe that!

And that’s where the second part of my question comes in: “Is ‘Team Happiness’ a consequence of high productivity and value creation?” I’ll answer that question in part 2 of my article. See you then!