Being effective in teams

Improv as motivator


I am Fin Kingma and I am worried. Worried about all the people working agile and still focusing on methods, techniques and tools.
I myself am an Agile Tester. And over the years I have come across a lot of trainings and workshops about Exploratory Testing, Test Automation, and other techniques / tools you can use to add more value in your team as a tester.

I notice a huge gap in soft skills trainings and workshops for testers, but also for other IT professionals. How can that be? If the first Agile Value is named “People and Interactions over Processes and Tools”, why do we spend so much time on learning new processes and tools, and so little time on ourselves and our interactions? It’s not like working in IT will improve our soft skills automatically. Or is everyone just skipping the first value…

Several years ago I discovered why. Why there are so few trainings and workshops to train our testing soft skills. It is because it is ‘intangible’, which is a fancy word for ‘I have no idea how to train that’.

The challenge
Being quite competitive myself, I had this little barney in the back of my head saying ‘challenge accepted!’ and so I started my quest to come up with ways to train these intangible soft skills.
I started digging into Intrinsic Motivation, which gave me a solid understanding of how our motivation and behavior works. Even stuff like manipulation. I just wanted to understand everything that could help me develop trainings and workshops to train soft skills for the IT professional. Mainly focusing on testers, because I believe testers should be the evangelists in helping a team improve (not only testing the product, but also testing the process and the team).
Using my newly gained knowledge of Intrinsic Motivation I gave several presentations and workshops, where I managed to help people understand their own motivations and behavior. I helped people understand the difference between self determined / proactive individuals (what every organization is looking for nowadays) versus reactive individuals, which was the result of bad management for several decades. Everyone saw the value of becoming proactive / self determined individuals, but unfortunately most people were still stuck in the reactive part and I could not help them to become proactive. The advise I gave, which I learned from Intrinsic Motivation and from the many horrible manipulation stories, was: ‘you need to discover who you are, for yourself’.

But to be completely honest… it was still something intangible for me as well.

But it seems that I now have come up with a possible way to ‘tangilize’ the intangible.

As a kid I spend some years on the stage, practising theatre. It was a lot of fun, but I always got bored when we had to follow the script. Those days I never even heard of Improvisation Theatre.

Six months ago I started practising Improvisation Theatre, to find out if it could help with my quest to train soft skills for IT professionals. To turn reactive individuals into proactive self-determined individuals.
While practising Improvisation Theatre I discovered that the art of Improv (short for Improvisation Theatre) makes use of exactly those soft skills that spark our creativity and come up with new brilliant ways to improve ourselves and our communication (listening and talking effectively). Basically it focuses on almost everything you need to become self-determined. Dan O’Conner gives an amazing speech of how improvisation could be used:

There’s also a nice blogpost from Robert Strauch who also made the link between Improv and Testing, and a few talks are given about using improv skills to improve the way we test. So this idea of using Improv is not completely new. But I am curious how improv can be used to transform people from reactive into proactive beings.

Amongst others, the following soft skills are trained using Improv:

  • Be bold, dare to stand up in front of an audience
  • Listening well to your partners and your audience
  • Bringing your message across as effectively as possible
  • Accept and embrace any situation
  • Having fun

Testing it’s practical use
I already organized a simple workshop and discovered that it was possible to have an entire group of people who are new to improv, stand and perform on stage within the hour. Several build up exercises are required to get there though. Now as a next step I want to go further. I want to discover if I can spark proactive behaviour using Improv workshops at clients, to help teams reach a stage of continuous improvement. Off course I will do this the testers-way! I will create a hypothesis and act (organize workshops at a client in this case) to prove or disprove my hypothesis. Because that is what makes testing fun.

My hypothesis is as follows:

“People who voluntarily join improvisation theatre workshops at a regularly base will show increased proactive behaviour over time.”

I will measure this using the following metrics:
– the amount of improvements done during a sprint within a team (should go up),
– the amount of complaining without action done during a sprint (should go down).

I will measure these by observing teams before and after each workshop, focusing on the attendees of the workshops.

For the coming months I will update this blog more actively to share any interesting updates.

Being effective in teams

Experimenting with Intrinsic Motivation

hey there!

For years I had this notion that it must be much more complex to Intrinsically motivate people than to motivate them externally. That it should be easier to decrease the internalization of their motivation, than to increase it. I could not have been more wrong…

Mostly because there have been many experiments like the candle problem. Problems that required creative heuristic thinking to be solved and where participants become driven by external motivation (simply by adding a monetary reward).

For those that are unfamiliar with the candle problem:


The challenge is: how to fix and light a candle on a wall (a cork board) in a way so the candle wax won’t drip onto the table below.

These experiments show how easily participants can be manipulated by lowering their internalization, making them less effective in solving complex puzzles.

Several months ago I conducted experiments with the same idea using a dutch game called ‘black stories’, where participants have to think creatively to find the solution. In this case, to solve a murder. I came to the same conclusions as most of the candle problem experiments, but at least I discovered them myself. I learned for myself instead of from a book.

A few weeks ago I conducted a new experiment (still using black stories). But instead of playing with a focus group and a control group, I decided to go for one group and play with the rules to see what happens within the group.

Basically I started out playing the game the way it is meant to be played. But as players made too much progress – I changed the rules.

Individual game chips
My main addition were game chips (= external stimuli). Players could win chips by asking the right questions or lose chips by asking stupid questions. The game master could decide which questions were right and which were stupid (I picked someone random as game master).

An important insight was not only the speed in which questions were asked, but also the type of questions. The game started active, with questions being asked every second. After the introduction of game chips, the players started asking ‘safe’ questions. Questions that would rarely be considered stupid, but uncovered almost no clues at all. It could take 30 seconds between the questions that were asked. You can imagine that it took very long for the game to be completed this way (and the plan was to timebox these sessions for 10 minutes :D).

Group game chips
Another fun alteration was having game chips for the ‘group’. Game chips were now shared. All of a sudden, the players started thinking more collaboratively. Listening to each other, but still asking ‘safe’ questions. Discussions were born.

It was incredibly fun to see what these changes did to the group behavior. Everyone was affected by these game changers and it had enormous impact on the speed in which the game was played – and completed. As I put more focus on the game chips, less relevant questions were asked and it took longer to complete the game.

After evaluating one of the sessions I got feedback that it was normal for the game to start active and slowly lose speed, because the first relevant questions are the easiest to think of.

The challenge
So I felt an upcoming challenge that I had to take. I decided to spice things up for the last group. Before the game started I gave every player a few game chips and explained the ‘rules’, or actually ‘my screwed up rules’.

After 5 minutes, not a single relevant question was asked.

Then I intervened. I took away all the game chips and explained it was free for all once again.

Now every player was firing away relevant questions. Not a second was wasted. It took them only a few minutes to finish the game this time.

When playing a game that requires creative thinking, triggering Intrinsic Motivation is JUST AS EASY as triggering External Motivation.

My belief system

Intrinsic Motivation

As an Intrinsic Motivation enthusiast I have had several discussions with people about the subject. I have learned over the years that many people do not understand what Intrinsic Motivation is about. For that reason I decided to make a new blog post to explain the idea behind Intrinsic Motivation.

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan explain “To be motivated means to be moved to do something”. I always explain it as having  the energy to do something. Without energy, all of our brilliant ideas will never come to fruition. Energy or motivation is not enough to make us move. We also need direction. Motivation in itself does not say anything about direction, that is why we talk about Extrinsic Motivation or Intrinsic Motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation vs Intrinsic Motivation
We can be Extrinsically motivated: directed by external factors, like money or trying to avoid pain.

Intrinsic Motivation means that we get the direction from ourselves. We decide for ourselves what we want to do.

Polarized Internalization
However, Intrinsic Motivation states that we are solely directed by intrinsic factors. But even our hobbies are affected by our own environment: being short on cash, not having enough time. Many other external factors can be named. The point is, is that we are always partially influenced by external factors.

In truth, the amount of which we are directed by intrinsic factors versus external factors is a matter of polarization. The degree to which we are Intrinsically motivated is called our Internalization.

5 levels of internalization
Self Determination Theory developed a subtheory called Organismic Integration Theory. This subtheory divides our degrees of internalization into five different groups. These five groups helped me understand the internalization of my own actions, while I was still an… lets call it Intrinsic Motivation Apprentice.

Starting at the bottom of internalization:

1) External motivation
Being directed by external factors. The carrot and stick principles is a well known example of this level of internalization: do this and then you will get X, or if you don’t you will get punished by Y. You are being forced by an external source.

2) Introjected motivation
Being pressured. Someone that is pressuring you to sign a contract is a great example of this level of motivation, but also peer pressure is a common example. The external factors that pressure you are not easily perceived and it often feels like you are forcing yourself to do something.

3) Identified motivation
Willing to do something for another. You are not directed by your own self, but you choose voluntarily to help someone else. For myself, doing the dishes in a guests apartment is a good example. But also when you are part of a Scrum team it is important to set your own idealogy aside and let yourself be directed by what the team needs.

4) Integrated motivation
Wanting something. This level of motivation is directed by your own idealogy. Whenever you are focused on a goal that is important to you (but you have not yet achieved) you are directed by Integrated motivation. You are directed by your own self, but you focus on something external.

5) Intrinsic motivation
Purely Intrinsic Motivation is doing something for the experience itself. You are not focused on any external goal. To be directed by this level of motivation you need to study yourself, discover who you are. In My identity I explain who I am and what I want. Who I am is linked to this level of internalization and what I want is linked to level 4, Integrated motivation.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

Proactive / self managed
The higher your internalization, the more proactive you become. After all, the higher levels of internalization make you less dependant on external factors. If you act based on level 1 internalization (external motivation) you will only act when a carrot or stick is presented at you. If you act based on level 5 internalization (Intrinsic motivation) you have no dependency towards any external factors, thus you act based on your own self. This is what we call proactive behavior. The only risk is that what you think is right, might bring down new problems. The key here is communication. If you talk with your colleagues about your ideas, they can warn you or help you out.

Several studies have shown that we become more skilled at performing heuristic skills (thinking creatively) when being intrinsically motivated. This RSI Animate film explains this concept.

Once you discover who you are (again, read My identity), you will discover you are much more then what your job description tells you. I am a Test Consultant. However, because I act based on my own self, I am now also a capable programmer, a Scrum Master and I have learned a lot about (automatic) deployments.

Control over your energy
Being less dependant from external factors also makes us less vulnerable. We cannot control external factors. As we are directed by lower levels of internalization, our energy is influenced by these external factors. If we are directed by our own self we can also choose for ourselves when to act on something that is important. I’ll give a real-life example.

At work I often start new initiatives that improve the quality of our work. A few weeks ago I had taken up too much extra work. I noticed the effect it had on my own energy levels. I informed my colleagues and for a short periode I focused myself only on my testing and developing activities (which I like to do) and let the other initiatieves rest until I felt better. The other initiatives are based on level 4 internalization, while most of my standard activities (testing and developing) are based on level 5 internalization.

Summing up. Intrinsic Motivation is the most internalized direction you can be motivated for. It means you know exactly who you are and you let your actions be directed based on who you are. This way you become more proactive, more creative and more flexible as a team member, but also as a person. It also helps you take control over your own energy.