Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hrair - how many folks should we have in our meetings?

  • Some are the bane of our existence. Too many people involved, too easy to get distracted, not much happening overall.
  • Some are delightful. Just enough people, high energy, intense conversation and collaboration, joyful enthusiasm shared.
It turns out that our brains are wired such that we can only keep a very small number of things in mind at any one time. Some argued for 7+/-2, some say even less, around three or four.

Hrair is a word found in the rabbit vocabulary of the book Watership Down. Since rabbits have an awful time with numbers, they only have actual words for numbers one, two, three, and four. Any number after that is hrair, which literally means "a thousand", but often means "a lot". The idea is that for humans, hrair might be similar, and at most stretch to 7 plus-or-minus 2.

The interesting observation is that small meetings (of no more than hrair folks) tend to be far more focused, effective and joyful. The same concept applies to Agile teams - teams of no more than hrair folks have an advantage at keeping tightly focused on a shared set of goals.

Groups of more than hrair people find it increasingly harder to keep focused on a single conversation. It becomes a progressively easier to get distracted and tempted to draw into a side-conversation with hrair folks or less.

The Power of an Agile Mindset

Linda Rising gave rousing closing keynote The Power of an Agile Mindset at Agile 2011. She got an impressing standing ovation at the end of the session, and at times there were even a few tears in the audience - a most impressive feat for a rather cerebral audience.

Linda draws our attention to the “agile mindset,” an attitude that equates failure and problems with opportunities for learning, a belief that we can all improve over time, that our abilities are not fixed but evolve with effort.

In contrast, a fixed mindset constrains our ability to change, improve & adapt - it robs us of a joyful future.