Skip to main content

The Brave Tin Soldier

December 18, 2014
He could have wept tin tears, but that would not have been right. He looked at her and she looked at him, but neither spoke a word. (Hans Christian Andersen, The Brave Tin Soldier]).


We raise our children and teach them to be "The Brave Tin Soldiers" that express only the “right” feelings, have little room for mistakes and act rationally. Who among us has not heard such phrases in a childhood:

  • "Men do not cry"
  • "You are a big boy(girl), you should not be afraid"

I look with envy at the pre-school children who have not been yet spoiled by our education system - they can still openly and naturally express their emotions: fear, joy, happiness, sadness, etc. Many adults have forgotten how to do it. We know that it’s possible to complain only to the beloved friends because for other people we still have to remain brave tin soldiers: "How are you? I’m fine”.

We wipe off the tears and know that talking about feelings is not accepted in modern society. The feelings are locked away in a closet and an artificial smile is stretched on our face. We are more concerned with what other people might think about us rather than our own feelings and needs. We can work with people for years without really knowing them and actually being indifferent to them. This is not because we have forgotten how to empathize, but because we consider them to be the same soldiers as us. And soldiers do not cry.

Who needs brave tin soldiers?

This approach is a consequence of the industrial paradigm of the 20th century. Throughout the school years we were trained "to think the ‘right’ way". Those who have the status and authority (teachers) demanded it from us. And nobody trained us how to express our own feelings. It is easier to manage and manipulate people who "think the ‘right’ way" and impose the will on them.


Organizations as machines

So far, most human organizations are still viewed as mechanisms, and the people working in them as the details of these mechanisms (screws). From time to time the mechanism needs some maintenance. So what about the gears?

Firstly, they are interchangeable - you can go to the store and buy a new item, that’s why we call people "resources". For a typical organization resources are both people and inanimate objects: a table, a wardrobe, a pen, stationery items. Resources can be easily broken, bought, sold and replaced.

Secondly, the gears do not have the right to experience feelings and talk about them. Gears are deprived of souls, they are used to listening to commands from the top.

Open PMBOK and you will find a section that is called «Project Human Resource Management». How does it feel to be a "resource"?

In 2001 we announced that we want to change the current paradigm, so the very first value of Agile Manifesto states:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.


My own interpretation is:


People, not resources


Perceive people as human beings.


If we are willing to take a bold step and start seeing people as people, not the resources we need to know and take into account their feelings and needs. Let's invest our time in building trust and relationships between people. Let's breathe life into our boring and formal meetings

If you accept this view, then you will surely agree that building relationships is central to the purpose of any meeting. Yet people often leave group meetings knowing little to nothing about those they’ve met with. If any relationship-building occurred, it may have happened despite the meeting structure, not because of it.(Moving beyond icebreakers, Stanley Pollack).

Talking about emotions

During every meeting I want us to see our colleagues not as objects, deprived of feelings and emotions, from which no matter what happens is necessary to win concession. So I often bring with me a flip chart, which shows the six basic (6) human emotions:

  • Happiness
  • Surprise
  • Inspiration
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Disgust

I hang "emotional flip chart" on the wall and then suggest everyone in round robin fashion to recall any events from the previous weeks or months, associate them with emotions on a flip chart, then share the story with colleagues. What made you sad? When did you feel inspired? What made you happy?

Yes, it's tough and there is a risk that you may encounter resistance. Therefore, you should start with yourself. Be the first to talk about your feelings. The facilitator may engage participants in a frank conversation by being the first to show his own vulnerability. The "Emotional flip chart" helps to break down the wall, change the tone of the meeting and the dynamics of the whole team.

There are lots of tools that can help us change the old organizational paradigm set. The "Emotional flip chart" is only one of them. I urge you not to stand still and move forward, changing the team, then your organization, and (why not?) the whole world. Isn’t that what we were dreaming of in 2001?


P.S. If you are looking for new tactics, tips and games for you Scrum, you can find a lot in my FREE LeanPub book "A Scrum Master's Practical Toolbox".


What did you think about this post?