Countless times have we been annoyed by someone’s EGO: a while back, on the road, somebody was behaving really ruthless, believing he was the most important person on earth. Or the boss just wanted to pamper her EGO, instead of finding the best solution for her team. And then, there was this one colleague who pushed through the alternative which was best for him personally, instead of paying attention to the community.
But: what about our very own EGO? Everybody has it. We have cultivated and nurtured it throughout our entire life. It seems to us to be of help in many situations – at least in a business context. In classic pyramid-type organizations, rules and etiquette are such that EGO has a payoff. Because competition gets stronger on your way up or when negotiating your next pay rise. Making a fuss and holding your ground appear to be the right strategy. Because further up there are only a few positions. These are the characteristics of a pyramid.
But what exactly is EGO? The word derives from Latin and means “I”. Philosophers and psychologists provide – and have provided ever since – very different definitions. An interesting perspective, in my view, is introduced by U.S. psychologists Timothy Leary and Jerry S. Wiggins (see also the link in the article in the magazine “Neue Narrative”). They put EGO and altruism into an orthogonal relation, and believe that each human being has both of these elements inside. However, extreme forms of EGO and altruism naturally trigger difficulties. A person with a very small EGO and a strong altruistic behavior neglects his self-care. A person with a very strong EGO and with absolutely no spirit of support and collaboration is a threat to the common good. However, this perspective means, in turn, that having a strong EGO is not necessarily bad – as long as the altruistic side is sufficiently visible.
Somebody who thinks that his EGO is too strong could strengthen his altruistic side in order to achieve a better balance, for example by developing compassion and gratitude.
But what can you do, when you think that people around you have too strong of an EGO? When, for example, you yourself do not get a chance to speak up or push through your ideas, or one of your somewhat more restrained colleagues?
What would it be like to re-define the rules for collaboration? If we established rules that provide the framework to keep in check very strong EGOs? We could start from scratch and introduce rules for good meetings – and already make a big difference. Since an EGO always necessitates a counterpart (a “WE”) in order to simply exist in the first place, we have a very strong leverage if we tackle the meeting issue. Meetings are a wonderful stage for our EGOs.
The following is a list of examples for good meeting practices:
- Appoint a facilitator for each meeting who ensures that the new rules are adhered to.
- Give the meeting a clear objective: this allows participants to refer their contributions to the stated objective, and you will be able to quickly identify show-offs.
- Only invite people that are really needed for the meeting.
- Use the “speaking in rounds” technique more often to ensure that everybody can have his say – even the quietest person.
- Let everyone finish speaking.
- Agree on a maximum talk time if this is deemed necessary.
- Let speakers classify their statements: this is a question, response, suggestion, or an emotional expression. The latter prevents that an emotion is (misleadingly) given the shape of a seemingly content-related contribution.
- Use nonviolent communication: “What did I observe?”, “How did I feel?“, “What do I want you to do?” – avoid “YOU” messages!
- Ensure to use clear communication: do not allow sentences like “One/somebody should...”
- Conduct a check-in at the beginning and a check-out at the end. The goal is to activate every single participant and to find out his emotional state.
Another way to keep in check the EGO or EGOs is working in the Scrum Framework. As Agile Coach, I accompany many teams in their transition to Scrum-based working. Many of the good meeting practices mentioned above are already integrated in the Scrum Framework. The Scrum Master is, by definition, the facilitator of all meetings and ensures that the good meeting practices are adhered to. All Scrum meetings have a clear objective. Virtually no meetings outside the framework are required. A homogeneous exchange is promoted particularly in the agile estimation technique. Only the persons with the highest and the lowest estimates are requested to give reasons for their respective estimate. This ensures that it is not always the usual suspect who takes the floor, but those with an estimate in the upper or lower end of the range. The regular retrospectives exclusively conducted to improve collaboration within the team guarantee that each team member gets to be heard.
Therefore, whoever wants to develop a meeting culture without excessive EGOs and harmonize communication within the team, but does not want to do this gradually (on a step by step basis), can collect a lot of good practice for their teams via the Scrum Framework with a single blow. I have witnessed the issue of an excessive EGO in my work as Agile Coach in only a very limited number of cases – in the form of the Product Owner. It is the responsibility of the Scrum Master to bring up this matter and to provide feedback to help the Product Owner address this issue. Because in the Scrum Framework, the Scrum Master is not simply the facilitator of meetings, but also takes care of the complete process. This involves reining in the Scrum roles.
Remark at the end: I found inspiration and food for thought for this newsletter in the magazine “Neue Narrative” (issue no. 8). The magazine belongs to the New Work segment, and I very much recommend reading this magazine! The transition to Scrum is attributable to my long-standing experience in working with agile teams and reflects my deep conviction.
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here