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The SCARF Model – How it affects agile teams

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In the post ‘There Are Sabre-Toothed Tigers In Your Office‘, we discussed how our brains have evolved, and that the primal response that helped protect us from sabre-toothed tigers had changed. Our brains now see that same level of threat from domains of human social experience that we wouldn’t consider to be life or death situations. However, our brains react as if they are, releasing the same chemicals and in doing so depleting other parts of our brain of resources. 

This is bad news – because it is the other more evolved parts of our brain that we use most We rely on them to do our jobs well. When they are not functioning at 100% (because our brains Limbic System is responding to a perceived threat) our cognitive function is impacted in several ways:

  • We become poorer at complex and non-linear problem solving
  • We make more generalisations and come up with fewer options when problem solving
  • Are more likely to react defensively and treat small stressors as of they were big stressors
  • And are more likely to err on the safe side, be less innovative, creative or bold.

The 5 Domains of Human Social Experience in SCARF

David Rock coined the acronym SCARF to describe the 5 domains of human social experience that the brain perceives to be as dangerous as a sabre-toothed tiger running loose in our office: They are threats to our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. 

While threats to these generate a negative ‘Threat’ response, the brain is also capable of responding to changes in these factors with a positive ‘Reward’ response. This means that we can take steps to both mitigate the negative impact and promote the positive. Unfortunately the threat response is more powerful and longer lasting than the award response, so the SCARF threats are more dangerous.

Let’s explore these domains in a little more detail, and consider how agile teams affect them.Read More »The SCARF Model – How it affects agile teams