From: The Wall Street Journal (edited)
In 1983, Jeff Sutherland saw how dysfunctional software development was. Companies followed the Waterfall Model in which ideas flowed from the top to the bottom.
So he designed an Agile Management System in which ideas would also percolate up from the bottom.
It worked so parents started taking the idea home with them.
The Starr family was exhausted by the earsplitting environment of their home.
Eleanor Starr: "I was trying the whole 'love them and everything will work out' philosophy but it wasn't working. I finally said, 'I can't take this any more.' "
So they started using the Agile Management program from husband David's work in which teams hold daily progress sessions and weekly reviews.
"The meetings transformed our relationships with our kids—and each other. And they took up less than 20 minutes a week."
The Starrs created a morning checklist of chores, which each child is responsible for ticking off.
The week that my wife and I introduced our morning checklist, we cut parental screaming in half.
But the real breakthrough was the family meeting.
Following the lead of the Starrs, we ask three questions:
1. What went well in our family this week?
2. What didn't go well?
3. What will we agree to work on this week?
Everyone offers answers, then we vote on two problem areas to focus on.
The key to the meetings is to let the kids pick their own rewards and punishments. Ours girls turn out to be little Stalins, so we often have to dial them back.
Brain research shows that children who plan their own time, set weekly goals and evaluate their own work become more internally driven and have greater self-control.
Our instinct as parents is to build ourselves up, but research shows that top-down leadership is not the best model. Effective teams aren't dominated by a single leader; all members contribute. So we let the kids criticize us.
Build in flexibility. Parents create a few rules and stick to them.
This assumes we can anticipate every problem. We can't. Families change as children grow and an agile system will adapt to each new phase.
But if agile is good at making families more adaptable, what about the flip side: teaching children core values? Here again, a simple idea from the business world offers parents a clear path.
Embracing change, however, doesn't mean the abandonment of core values.
Agile can also be used to transmit core values.
David Kidder a serial entrepreneur says, "Young companies fail because you have a charismatic leader with a bunch of beliefs, but those beliefs don't translate to the rest of their company."
Kidder created a company playbook, with everything from the purpose of the organization to how to run meetings. "Why not create a similar playbook for my family?" he wondered.
The Kidder belief board has a one-sentence manifesto. "The purpose of our lives is to contribute our unique, God-given gifts to have an extraordinarily positive impact on the lives of others and the world." It then lists a dozen core values, from faith to knowledge.
Jim Collins says that great organizations "preserve the core and stimulate progress."
The same applies to families, he told me. While you need to keep introducing new ideas, you also need to identify the bedrock principles you believe in. One way to do that is to create a mission statement.
Other workplace techniques are being used at home as well.
To create our mission statement we used branding techniques to identify what is most important to us.
We voted on a list of values. Next we answered questions about what we liked most about our family. Finally we settled on a list of 10 core affirmations. (eg. "We don't like dilemmas; we like solutions.")
Research says that parents should spend less time worrying about what they do wrong and more time focusing on what they do right. The mission statement articulates what your family does right.
It also creates a reference point. When one of our daughters got into a spat with a classmate, we asked her which of our core values seemed to apply. "We bring people together?" she said.
Scholars have introduced new techniques to resolve showdowns.
William Ury says that since families are no longer top-down, new rules have to be brokered all the time. "Continuous negotiation is the norm."
Josh Weiss uses the Ury technique. When fights erupt he coaches his daughters to step away, calm down and then return with alternative solutions.
Some counterintuitive tips:
1. Have as many people in the discussion as possible. Too few cooks spoil the broth. Groups, especially if they include nonexperts, are better at making decisions than individuals.
2. Vote first, talk later. Danny Kahneman says, " You'll reach a smarter conclusion if everyone expresses their views at the outset, before anyone has spoken. Otherwise, those who speak first will have too much influence.
3. Have two women present. Research shows that groups with a higher proportion of females make more effective decisions. Groups with more women are more sensitive to others and reach compromise more quickly.
Happiness depends in large measure on relationships. Our families are our primary relationships yet we spend almost no time trying to improve them.
Tal Ben-Shahar says, "There is one easy step to unhappiness—doing nothing."
The easiest path to happiness is to do something. This may be the secret to a happy family.
COMMENT: Why didn't he tell us what to do when the kids come up with ideas that don't seem to take things where you want them to go?
Is this a trick to get the underlings to pick their own form of submission or do they really have power? It's not clear.