About adaptation or how we lose opportunities to change

People adapt to the environment are in. That’s the human nature – no matter how hard it is, you try to adapt to the existing conditions. Such behaviour comes directly from primal areas of our brain and is a cornerstone of evolution. Since ages people have been adapting to their surroundings – living in deep forests, on volcanic islands, deserts or snowfields. When people were forced to migrate to different area, they did it rather reluctantly as afterwards they’d need to invest a lot of effort into learning new conditions, trying to sustain their old lifestyle but mostly accepting already existing culture. Especially when the number of migrants is much lower than than number of native humans leaving in the area since ages.

I still would like to write about Agile, don’t worry. I didn’t change my focus to anthropology, but I see some similarities.

When people change their jobs, it is very similar to ancient migration from one environment to the other.

You change your surrounding rather reluctantly (job change is one of the most stressful activities in human life) and need to spend a lot of time and energy into learning new conditions. When new in the workplace, you search for things which are familiar to you – the more you find the faster you build your confidence. You try to sustain some patterns and process from your previous job, but mostly you adapt to the new organizational culture. Your new employer will surely offer many activities and programs aimed at your assimilation – they’d get different names like onboarding, inception, induction, but sharing one goal, integrate you as soon as possible. It is a great thing, which allows to decrease stress level of new employee and also to minimize time-to-organization (time after which a new employee brings more value than costs). But there is also a negative effect of such programs.

Many times, they are so focused on presenting the company’s culture, processes and environment, that they kill all fresh ideas which a new employee can bring from somewhere else.

The same as minor cultures were destroyed by migration of more numbered groups, you lose your opportunity to embrace the change.

Just after changing the job people are much more objective than later in time.

They are still not adjusted to the environment and they will transparently question all problems, blockers, poor solutions or any other obstacles to which old workers just adapted themselves. The problem is that new employees are very stressed and are naturally trying to find their place in a new company or a new team. This can effectively block all their ideas at the early beginning. Older employees can also not treat change propositions coming from new joiners seriously. “In our organization it won’t work”, “You still don’t understand how this works, do you?” just to mention two possible responses for the new joiner ideas. There is also a deep psychological constraint – “how the new joiner can propose a change to the environment in which I’ve been working for 5 years?”. Following safety need, old workers will rather defend status quo than follow new joiners risky (from their point of view) suggestions.

The same analysis can be done for the team. When a new person joins the team, we mostly focus on how to integrate this new team member into the existing team culture. That’s our primary goal, that’s why we have buddies, team onboarding programs and so on.

But do we have change embracement programs, new ideas incubators or any other activities focused on leveraging from new experience, objective observations and fresh ideas that come to our team or organization together with a new employee?

Each one of you can start to use this opportunity by just asking a new joiner couple of questions during first two or three weeks:

  • What is the biggest positive surprise so far? And the negative one?
  • What are the main strengths of our team and the company? What are the weaknesses?
  • Is there anything you would like to change immediately, or did something work much better in your previous job?
  • Which areas you believe we should improve? In what way?

It won’t replace the change embracement program, but it is a simple and powerful activity that anyone can do. You too.

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